Prince of Thorns is the spectacular debut novel of talented new British author, Mark Lawrence. The first installment in the Broken Empire trilogy, it promises to be one of the most exciting releases of 2011. Dark, captivating, relentless and haunting, this brilliant epic fantasy more than delivers in all regards.
Imagine the earth as a desolate wasteland. The dead rest uneasily and hundreds of claimants battle for various thrones across the Broken Empire. Now you’re getting close to the world portrayed in Prince of Thorns. The story revolves around Jorg Ancrath, the warped 14-year-old heir to the kingdom of Ancrath. When he was just ten he was forced to watch, held fast in a hook briar, as his beloved mother and younger brother were brutally murdered at the behest of a rival lord. When his father, the king, chose political gain over retribution, the injustice drove Jorg to abandon his place and pursue vengeance as an outlaw. Since that fateful day something inside Jorg has been broken. He watches and perpetrates acts of violence with cold indifference and lives by a simple philosophy, “Care about no one and you have no weaknesses.” Surrounded by his deadly band of Brothers, survival is merely a game to the young Prince, and one he intends to win by any means necessary.
Fast paced, exhilarating and absorbing Lawrence’s fast paced and relentless narrative wastes no time on introductions, plunging the reader headfirst into the aftermath of Jorg and his brother’s latest bloodthirsty foray. Readers will soon decide whether they can stomach the graphic violence and dark humor that define the novel, and those that can are in for an exhilarating ride. Prince of Thorns shares many qualities with the thorns for which its prince was named. By the end of the first chapter it had well and truly sunk its hooks into me and I was in for the long haul whether I liked it or not. I had more than one night of lost sleep which I blame entirely on Mark Lawrence. In addition, like the scars covering Jorg’s body, the echos of the story remained with me long after I turned the last page.
A warped yet relatable protagonist Prince of Thorns is narrated in the first person and thus we watch events unfold through the eyes of Jorg himself. This offers a unique and somewhat disturbing perspective, as Jorg sees human life as expendable and lacks empathy for those around him. He considers anyone he may grow to care about as a liability that must be removed before it can be used against him. Despite these sociopathic tendencies, and the fact that he is responsible for almost innumerable atrocities, Jorg is decidedly charming and remains unnervingly relatable. This must be considered a remarkable feat by Lawrence as he makes his audience feel sympathy for a character so morally ambiguous it verges on flat-out evil. A significant reason for this is Jorg’s very realistically wrought background. While a reader may not always relate to the choices he makes or the person he has become, the emotions that lie behind Jorg’s decisions and the events in his life can be identified with.
The secondary characters are also very well developed, from the stoic Nuban to the rather despicable Rike. All have their own distinctive flavor, perform their own roles and feel believable in the context of Lawrence’s world. Most importantly, while most of the characters of Prince of Thorns may be labeled as “bad,” they are never stereotyped. These are real people with realistic emotions who have come to where they are now through events and decisions we can all relate to.
A gritty tale for a broken world This captivating tale plays out against a haunting, vividly realized backdrop: the desiccated corpse of a once technologically advanced civilization. Lawrence excels in creating an intense and oppressive atmosphere, enveloping the readers and drawing them further into his world with each new revelation. Magic and science are interwoven, becoming almost indistinguishable in many cases, such as the origins and powers of the monstrous leucrota. This desolate landscape, coupled with the cruelty of the narrator, makes Prince of Thorns a captivating yet undeniably gritty and confronting experience. Some readers may be disturbed by the way it plunges mercilessly into the darkest corners of the mind. Others will revel in the depravity and delight in this exploration of the most sinister aspects of the human experience.
These dark elements, however, are never explored more than necessary. Rather than overloading the narrative with excessive explanation, Lawrence proves very skilled in dropping hints throughout the narrative, showing us the world through Jorg’s eyes and allowing us to piece the puzzle together ourselves. This adds a whole new dimension to Prince of Thorns, enhanced even further by seemingly effortless intermingling of familiar elements with the distinctly foreign.
Kvothe’s evil little brother While many may compare Prince of Thorns to other gritty and epic works like Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy or George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire—and be quite right in that comparison as well—I’d like to compare it with Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. Although Jorg doesn’t fill his autobiography with stories of how he charms the ladies or lament the fact that he has extreme superpowers he can’t use, both books are coming of age biographies of extraordinary boys far too wise for their age, and the hardships of their lives.
Why should you read this book? Dazzling in its brilliance, Prince of Thorns is a must read for any fan of gritty, epic fantasy that delves into the darkest depths of humanity. I was left feeling slightly bereft and a little shell shocked when it ended. Luckily, this is only the first in the trilogy so there’s two more books to come. It may quite possibly turn out to be the debut of 2011, and Mark Lawrence is definitely a name to watch in the future. While I could easily write another few pages on how much I loved this book, I’d much prefer you go out, grab a copy, and read it for yourself. You can thank me later....more
Kevin Hearne’s Hexed follows hot on the heels of Hounded, the first book in Hearne’s urban fantasy series, The Iron Druid Chronicles. Only a few weeks after Atticus’s showdown with Aenghus Og, Atticus is already mired in the affairs of warring Polish and German witches, rogue demons, Bacchants from Las Vegas, and the first Druid initiate in centuries. He has also developed a sudden (and unfortunate) reputation among all world mythologies as a badass god-killing machine.
Characters: Once again, purely brilliant All your favourite characters from Hounded are back: Granuaile, Hal, Gunnar, Leif, Widow McDonaugh, the witches, and (of course) the irrepressible Oberon. Every character’s personality is sharp and unique; if you’ve been following the series, you’ll know that Hearne’s writing is super fast-paced, and that extends to his ability to create a real character in a few paragraphs.
A few new characters are also introduced. The most interesting are the individual witches left over in Radomila’s Polish witch coven, and also one of the many incarnations of Coyote, the trickster god of several Native American tribes. It was a relief to see Hearne finally introduce Native American mythologies, considering the series is mainly based in Arizona. Overall, though, there are fewer new and hilarious characters bouncing around than in Hounded. I was a little disappointed – mainly because the characters in Hounded were all so darn fantastic, and I was hoping for more – but at the same time, at a certain point an author has to start working with what he has.
Plot is exciting and oriented towards the Big Picture In hindsight, I appreciate Hounded as a fun, action-packed introduction to the world of Atticus. It’s relatively self-contained. Few plot threads linger into the next book. The Atticus of Hounded is more happy-go-lucky and unbelievable than the Atticus of Hexed. And with Hexed, Hearne dives right into the meat of the story, bypassing any more introductory heart flutters and cutesy personalities.
The events in Hexed are clearly meant to send the reader tumbling down the rabbit hole, and I can already foresee – albeit murkily – that some of the decisions Atticus makes in this novel will have serious repercussions for him down the road. Although the immediate conflict in Hexed is handily resolved in the end, there are far more threads left untied that I am eager, and a little afraid, to see addressed later in the series. Atticus’s characterization, meanwhile, deepens and ‘fills out’: we learn more of his history, more of his motivations, and more of his weaknesses – all in that snarky, sassy, charming and loveable voice of his, of course.
Perhaps a little … darker? The difference in atmosphere is subtle, but I did detect a darkness in Hexed that certainly was not present in Hounded. Unlike in the series’ debut, some non-criminal and named characters meet their end in Hexed. The violence certainly seems more pronounced. And Atticus shows the hint of a dark side when he’s battling his enemies. This grittier feel is so subtle and natural that Hexed really doesn’t feel like a departure from the first book, but I do think that Hexed is a better reflection of what The Iron Druid Chronicles will become as Hearne gains more confidence.
Why should you read this book? I said it about the first book and I’ll say it again: It’s got oodles of personality, lots of action, and a hunky Irishman on the cover. What more could you want? But seriously. Hexed is a fantastic sophomore effort by Hearne and gives a very promising glimpse into the future of the series. If you enjoyed Hounded – or if you were waiting for the second book to drop – then there’s no doubt in my mind that you will love Hexed. Give it a try. Oberon is waiting....more
Hounded is the spectacular first novel in The Iron Druid Chronicles by debut author Kevin Hearne. A unique urban fantasy with a Celtic bent, the Chronicles follow Atticus, the planet’s last and certainly most charming Druid. This young Irish lad – well, he looks twenty-one, but he’s actually a couple of millennia old – has plenty of enemies scattered around the globe, but he just wants to spend his days working at an occult bookshop in Arizona with his talking Irish wolfhound. Unfortunately the badass Celtic god of love is in serious need of his old magic sword, and Atticus really doesn’t want to return it…
Breezy, hilarious and totally addictive Told in first person by Atticus himself, Hounded can’t be put down. I read it in less than a day. Atticus is sassy, no-nonsense, and unremorseful in going off on his own personal rants in the middle of a conversation (the difficulty in finding a perfect fish’n’chips, anyone?). The combination of a modern world with old school Celtic mythology (and a few other pantheons, too) is brilliant, and Atticus’s voice, though definitely Irish, doesn’t veer into an unintelligible dialect. The novel’s concept is similar to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, but it’s made original by Atticus’s light-hearted storytelling and his outsider status from every social circle (mortal, godly, witching, lupine …) he encounters. Hounded is the kind of book that you put down, wrinkle your nose and say “Gee! Why didn’t I think of that?”
If you think Atticus is great, wait ‘til you meet Oberon. The beauty of Hounded isn’t in Atticus’s narration, though. Not at all. Hounded’s charm lies entirely in the secondary characters: Oberon, the lovable Irish wolfhound; Leif, an Icelandic vampire-attorney, and his many werewolf co-workers; a hot Irish bartender possessed by a Hindu witch; Mrs. MacDonagh, a neighborly Irish widow who’s fine to let you bury a corpse in her yard, so long as the dead arse is British; and the list goes on. Hearne treads a perfect line between hilarious quirks and real depth, and even the goofiest sideshow character is easy to care for after you get to know her a little.
The plot itself: predictable, but still fun There aren’t too many surprises in Hounded. In fact, the one time I thought I’d pegged a good surprise coming up, it turned out that Hearne didn’t even take advantage of the opportunity. Instead Hounded employs your typical action-adventure formula: suspense, killing, mystery, revelation, suspense, killing … You get the idea. Some later plot elements came out of left-field – demons, for one thing (don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler) – but they weren’t the real mind-blowing surprise you’ll find in some thrillers.
That’s all right, though. Events move so quickly – and the writing, sex, and violence are all so dazzling – that you’ll hardly have the time to notice. Besides, the characters and the witty narrative are why you’ll pick up and read this book anyway.
Why should you read this book? You might not be able to tell, but I’m actually restraining myself in this review. This book is wonderful! It’s got oodles of personality, lots of action, and a hunky Irishman on the cover. What more could you want? Hearne does a surprisingly believable job of mishmashing world cultures and mythologies into one madcap, witty, intelligent adventure with a cast you’ll fall in love with. Hounded doesn’t have the meaty substance of high literature, but it’s certainly worthier fare than most of what you’ll find in the urban fantasy section of your bookstore these days....more
It took me a while to fall in love with The Winds of Khalakovo, the first part in the Lays of Anuskaya series by Bradley P. Beaulieu. As with many other epic fantasy novels, I expected to enter a big story filled with scientific magic and a world yet to be built. Beaulieu, however, thrusts us into a complete world, rich with history, politics, and elemental magic. Instead of info dumps taking the reader by the hand, we see the world through the eyes of our main characters and learn only what they don’t already know. Only by paying close attention to the small hints of information do we find out more.
Being used to having my epic world-building served to me on a silver platter, I had difficulty getting into the book at first and found that I needed to adjust my expectations. However, as the story moved on, the characters met, and the political schemes were set in motion, the story quickly picked up pace and, all of a sudden, I had trouble putting the book down.
Arranging the pieces With subtle ease, Beaulieu arranges all the pieces along the playing board. The story starts when Prince Nikandr, son of the Duke of the islands of Khalakovo, is arranged to be married to Atiana, daughter of the Duke of the Vostroma islands. The ceremony is to take place during a meeting of the Nine Dukes, all rulers of their respective island Duchies. However, when the Grand Duke, leader of the Nine Dukes, is murdered by a wind spirit, the meeting turns into a political nightmare, with each of the Dukes ready to attack the other and a civil war brewing with Khalakovo in the middle of it.
It is a situation that reminds me of A Song of Ice and Fire. However, beyond the politics and intrigue, The Winds of Khalakovo is nothing like George R.R. Martin’s work. Of course, there are similarities; there are neither good nor bad guys in this situation, as every character seems both good and evil. Beaulieu, though, has a very clear goal in mind: his story is clearly moving somewhere, and does so with a breathtaking pace. There are no slow scenes in which the author is bent on torturing his characters. Instead, the characters are tortured—and developed—through the events that created a book filled with so much suspense that it seemed to be trembling in my hands.
The heart of the story At the heart of this story, however, is a mystery of elemental magic of old. A blight is creeping over the Grand Duchy, killing crops and emptying the seas, infecting random people—including Nikandr—with a deadly disease called the wasting. Somehow this seems related to a rift between the world and the realm of the spirits. In the center of all this is a young autistic boy who may well hold the key to defeating the blight, a boy who is sought after by not only Nikandr, but also the fanatical Maharraht, bent on the destruction of the Grand Duchy.
Characters to love and hate Throughout these events, I had a love-hate relationship with the characters. The love between Nikandr and his sister Victania seems a bit sketchy to me; it feels like they are romantically involved, a fact made even less understandable by the very unrealistic and unlikable character of Victania. And the way Atiana seems to change from hating Nikandr to loving him over the course of a single day isn’t believable—I’m not buying the whole tough-girl-who-secretly-wants-love angle.
On the other hand, though, the other characters are well-fleshed-out and believable. Nikandr is one of the best characters in fantasy: a little naïve; young, but expected to grow up; and still playful while all his childhood friends seemed to have moved on. Faced with the decisions of real life in a brewing civil war, he is forced to grow up pretty fast, and the way Beaulieu develops this aspect of the story is extraordinary and seems rather realistic to me.
An intriguing world The world of The Winds of Khalakovo forms a very intriguing aspect of the story as well. While the world is never force-fed to a reader, it quickly becomes evident that this world is well-wrought. All the elements are connected: two peoples and two magic systems, subtly connected to each other; a conflict between religion and reality; a civilization adjusted to life on scattered islands; and transportation between the islands on board of amazing airships, which again use one of the magic systems to function. Each of these elements is pictured in a believable way and is well-conceived. The airships, especially, offer some really colorful and enthralling scenes. Above that, the culture in The Winds of Khalakovo is based on Russian culture, adding an original and intriguing twist to the world.
Why should you read this book? With The Winds of Khalakovo, Beaulieu offers us a well-written novel overflowing with action and suspense, great characters—and a couple horrible ones—and a brilliantly-wrought story of mystery, magic, and political intrigue, where everything seems possible and you never know what lies around the next corner.
All in all, The Winds of Khalakovo is an amazing first volume in what may become a series to challenge more established epic fantasy series like A Song of Ice and Fire and Malazan Book of the Fallen. However, at this stage, I dare not make such a lofty claim just yet. The Winds of Khalakovo was not without its minor flaws, but this near-perfect novel promises a bright future for Beaulieu’s The Lays of Anushka. If you are a fan of the epic fantasy genre, you should definitely give this book a chance....more
Imagine The Arabian Nights starring Iroh of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and you’ll have a sense of what Saladin Ahmed’s debut novel is like. Throne of the Crescent Moon is one of the strongest debut novels I’ve read and will likely be a serious contender in any “Best Debut” list for this year.
Throne of the Crescent Moon follows the story of Doctor Adoulla Makshlood, the last of the true ghul hunters in the great city of Dhamsawaat. On the verge of retiring, Adoulla is forced away from his hopes and plans when he and his assistant learn of a series of grisly murders and rumors of a sinister conspiracy. Adoulla’s investigations lead him outside the city with his assistant Raseed bas Raseed, a young member of an order of holy warriors. There, they are set upon and nearly overwhelmed by a band of powerful ghuls. They only survive the encounter due to the aid of a young woman able to take the form of a lioness, Zamia Badawai, whose entire tribe was slaughtered by the ghuls. Adoulla takes Zamia under his wing, and together the three of them must unravel the mystery surrounding the Throne of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms before it’s too late.
Engaging Characters As previously stated, the main character, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, initially reminded me of Iroh from the 2005-2008 television series Avatar: The Last Airbender. As the story progressed, I had to revise my thoughts on the character to “Iroh, if Avatar: The Last Airbender had been a more adult show.” One of the more interesting and unique things about Adoulla as a main character is that he is over sixty years old—and isn’t part of a culture where such longevity is common. He is a very, very human character, subject to the aches and pains of extensive experience and the wear and tear of the years.
Adoulla’s assistant, Raseed, is a sixteen-year-old boy who is part of an order of holy warriors. He is prideful, and many of Adoulla’s quirks go against his training of absolute purity. Prone seeing only surface value, Raseed is quick to judge and does not discriminate between friend and foe in his quest to bring justice, with intentions mattering very little in his logic. Things become very entertaining once Zamia joins the group since is an inherent attraction between them—as young people are prone to have.
Zamia Badawai, the young woman able to take the form of a lioness, is not the exiled beautiful princess popularized by adapted fairy tales and children’s movies. In fact, her plain features are emphasized by the author, as well as used as a source of conflict within her character. Also, the tension between Zamia and Raseed is highly entertaining to read, as it takes on a variety of forms.
The prose flows ever on and on While the premise and characters were definitely strong points of Throne of the Crescent Moon, the true strength of the novel lies in Ahmed’s ability to craft a story. The atmosphere of the novel lends and adapts itself to every scene, evolving as the story develops. Ahmed’s writing also finds that balance between giving the reader too much information and leaving too much to the reader’s imagination, something that I distinctly enjoy. Combine these elements with his character work, and Ahmed’s debut novel becomes a masterful work of worldbuilding and storytelling.
My one qualm with his writing comes not from any fault on the author’s end, but rather from my own personal biases; I am a comma junkie, and many of Ahmed’s sentences give me pause. However, in every case, the sentences were grammatically correct either with or without commas. Once I got used to Ahmed’s style of writing, it became a moot point—especially once the story really started picking up steam. Just a word of warning to any fellow comma junkies out there.
A mesmerizing world In Throne of the Crescent Moon, Ahmed crafts a detailed world with a sense of history. The lands of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms are part of a deeply immersive world with believable history, characters, and places. The map provided in the novel complements the novel in many ways, both stylistically and informationally. Taken together, Throne of Crescent Moon creates a fantastic world that I look forward to visiting again and again.
Why should you read this book? As debut novels go, this might well be the strongest I have read to date. Saladin Ahmed has created a fantastic debut novel with a gorgeous world and fantastic characters. But the main reason you should read this novel is Ahmed’s sheer capacity for storytelling. Available on February 7, Throne of the Crescent Moon is a novel any fantasy enthusiast should not miss....more
Next to my keyboard lies the book I just finished: Queen of Kings, the debut novel from Maria Dahvana Headley, author of The Year of Yes (a memoir of the year she spent saying yes to anyone who asked her out). Staring at me from the cover is a striking image of the Queen of Kings, Cleopatra, ruler of ancient Egypt.
All of you have likely heard of Cleopatra, and many of you will probably love her like I do. Hers is a story that speaks to our imagination. It is the story of a queen and Pharaoh of Egypt, loved by her people. First the mistress of Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, Cleopatra later married Mark Antony, indirectly leading to a war with Rome. When Octavian—who later became Emperor Augustus—invaded Egypt and Antony’s armies deserted, Cleopatra killed herself by inducing an asp to bite her.
A different Cleopatra But what if the story didn’t end there? What if there were more to the asp bite than history has recorded? After all, rumors say the asp was never found…
These are the questions explored in Queen of Kings. And let me tell you, the research behind the answers is absolutely extraordinary. While this is a work of alternate history, every part of the amazing story told in Queen of Kings fits within the known history of Cleopatra. This time, she wasn’t bitten by an asp. Instead, in a desperate attempt to stop Egypt’s inevitable defeat at the hands of the Roman Empire, Cleopatra resorts to the ancient gods of Egypt. But meddling with gods is not to be done lightly. In an ultimate gamble, Cleopatra sacrifices herself to Sekhmet and is transformed into a shape-shifting vessel of a deity bent on the destruction of the world, craving the blood of mortals. And then there is Cleopatra’s own desire for revenge against Rome and its emperor.
Subtly-wrought characters While the idea of a shape-shifting and divine vampire might sound a bit blunt, one of Headley’s greatest talents is her subtlety. Queen of Kings isn’t your regular alternative vampire story. Sure, Cleopatra—or rather the goddess in her—has a particular craving for blood, but this is hardly the defining feat of this new and immortal Cleopatra. Instead, the attention is on her struggles with the evil deity within her. Cleopatra isn’t a killer. All she wanted was to be with Mark Antony. All she still wants is to die and join him in the afterlife, but she isn’t herself anymore. This conflict has been perfectly captured by the prose of Headley, who at times seems like a poet of old, writing a legendary tragedy the likes of which the world has never read before.
The characters beyond our beloved Cleopatra have been carefully crafted, too. Headley’s masterful subtlety shows in all her characters. It shows in Augustus, Emperor of Rome, who, in mortal terror of the undead queen haunting him, meddles with powers he knows nothing about. It shows in Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra and Antony, who struggles with both feelings of betrayal and loyalty towards her parents, and is left to fend for herself in a hostile world. And then we have Agrippa, loyal general of Augustus, who believes his emperor and friend is going mad, but feels obligated to stand by him nonetheless.
Alternating eyes All of these characters and many more are thoroughly explored in a variety of viewpoints. In accordance with Headley’s prose—which seems at times very broad compared to that of other genre works—these viewpoints are explored in a way I haven’t encountered before. Firstly, a multitude of major and minor points of view, each with their own small chapter, enhances the perspective of the story, giving it a very epic feel for a book in the paranormal and alternate history genres. Secondly, the viewpoints in the more monumental scenes, like battles, tend to switch continuously. On one page, you might see a scene through three different sets of eyes. For me, this peculiar style took some getting used to, but I definitely appreciated it in the end. The multiple small chapters and varying viewpoints therein, however, reduced the pacing of Queen of Kings significantly, especially in the middle part of the story.
Mythology, folklore, paganism, legend I have already mentioned that Queen of Kings fits nicely into the paranormal and alternate history genres. More than those, however, this is a mythological fantasy. Headley has managed to weave many different cultures together in a book that contains elements from Greek legend, Egyptian and Roman mythology, Norse paganism, and North African folklore. Egyptian and Roman gods are seemingly effortlessly combined and lend the basis for some very interesting magic abilities. In this, Queen of Kings has left me with a bit of a philosophical feeling—I found myself contemplating how different mythologies would have coexisted in the world at the time of Cleopatra.
Why should you read this book? After being thoroughly and unexpectedly—hey, don’t blame me for staying for away from anything with vampires!—blown away by Queen of Kings, I know one thing: Headley is a master storyteller. Queen of Kings is a legend and a tragedy. It is a sexy read and a comprehensively researched book. It is at once a paranormal love story, an epic, and a fast-paced thriller. I recommend Queen of Kings to anyone who enjoys reading fantasy and loves the many myths of our past. A truly wonderful debut from an author worth keeping an eye on. Good thing this is just the first in a trilogy, too!...more
Kameron Hurley’s stellar debut novel follows the bloody life of Nyxnissa, commonly called Nyx, a bel dame (government-funded bounty hunter) trying to survive in a world consumed by a holy war that’s been raging for centuries. When she’s relieved of her duties for doing black work of her own to earn extra cash for herself, she has to adapt and find a new way of living.
To survive, Nyx has created a team of independent bounty-hunters that are willing to take any bounty that allows them to survive another day. Suddenly, she’s summoned into the Queen’s presence to accept a note that could retire her team from the business altogether. Charged with hunting down a missing alien who may be the key to solving the war in her country’s favor, she risks her life, as well as the lives of her team, to capture the alien. In the process Nyx and her team are entangled in a spiral of chaos and political intrigue fueled by hatred and distrust.
Strong Characters James – God’s War accomplished what very few fantasy novels are able to do—create believable and in-depth characters. Each character got his or her own story, and in each of those stories the reader is brought closer to what makes that character his or her own person. Truly, this is something that astounded me more than anything else in this novel, and it’s something that deserves a great amount of applause. In the end, there were characters that I felt closer to than others, but they all had their strengths and weaknesses, and that’s what made them such a pleasure to read.
Caitrin – The characters were definitely one of the main strengths of the novel. Nyxnissa, our heroine, is not a character that is immediately likable or relatable. Though you may finish the novel disliking her, Nyx is a real character. She is complex; she isn’t afraid to be anything but herself, she does what she wants when she wants, and she is willing to do whatever is necessary to accomplish her goals. Her character arc over the course of the novel is subtle but the changes in her character are always a result of her own will, never of circumstance or other people. Nyxnissa wasn’t my favorite character but she was the most well-fleshed out character and the perfect heroine for the story.
Masterful Cultural Parallels James – I was amazed with how well Kameron Hurley incorporated cultural parallels with our own world without turning the novel into her own political statement. The problems facing the planet of Umayma are similar to our own. Homosexuality is grudgingly accepted but still culturally despised, similar to how it’s dealt with in many parts of our world. As well, Hurley’s ability to transform the war into a character of its own is phenomenal. You can feel the war’s oppressive hands clamping down on everyone in this novel, and shivers went down my spine as I realized the effects that war can have on people.
Caitrin – The political connotations weren’t as obvious for me as the religious parallels were. The history of the people who landed on Umayma has been lost in the sands of time as the different nations that populate the world were created thousands of years before the novel begins. In my mind, though, I could easily see this as a far-flung future where different followers of God escaped Earth and settled the world. The nations of Chenja and Nasheen had an Islamic feel, while Ras Tiegans and the aliens seemed to follow an evolution of Christianity. I’d love to learn more about the beliefs of Mhoria and Tirhan. Religion is hugely important to all aspects of the novel as it pervades and influences everything. I loved creating theories as I read and learned more about the cultures of the countries of Umayma.
Amazing World-Building James – The world that God’s War is set in is one vastly different from our own, yet still relatable on quite a few levels. There’s a definite Islamic feel to the world, the two sects being divided into two countries—Nasheen and Chenja—and surrounding those two cultures are previously established civilizations that have been forced to deal with the intrusion of these new people on their homeland. I felt like every single culture was fleshed out beautifully, and because of that, the world was plausible and could be sustained for generations.
Caitrin – Hurley definitely gives the impression that she knows every minute detail of Umayma and it gives the whole universe of the novel a rich and deep feel. She doesn’t pull you out of the story by explaining things that the character would already know. This is a strength but it is also a weakness. You are thrown immediately into the world without a lifeline. I found myself scrambling to understand things like: What exactly is a burnous? Was a bakkie a bug, a vehicle or some weird mixture of both? Were the sisters chasing Nyx actually related to her? Maybe a dictionary in the back would have helped me. Once you get into the swing of things though, you are fully immersed in the story and world of Umayma and it’s a fantastic read.
Not a Page Turner James – This book was not a page-turner, and that was unfortunate. The world was written beautifully, and the story was definitely interesting, but I felt like there just wasn’t enough suspense in this novel. There was no reason why I couldn’t just stop at the end of a chapter to set it down for later.
Caitrin – I agree that while the book is very well written, until the last third of the book, I could easily put it down and pick it up later. The ending for me, though, was stellar. The action and stakes ramped up and I spent three hours finishing the book because I couldn’t put it down. I never felt cheated by how things turned out. Events didn’t unfold like I thought they would and I was surprised by how emotional I became when a character died. I had to put the book down for a few seconds to fully absorb it. Nyx is never spared a bad experience because she is the heroine, and her story and the overall plot had a complete end. The story could have very well ended there, with the lives of the characters continuing on without the reader ever learning more. I was satisfied by the ending but I wanted more; I wanted to see what else happened in the lives of the characters. I was very happy to learn that two more novels are going to be published. Some of the threads of the story that weren’t wrapped up into a neat bow will get resolution! I can’t wait until December!
Why should you read this book? While this isn’t your standard fantasy novel, if you don’t mind a sci-fi twist to your reading, then there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t pick up this book. If you’re looking for an interesting, fresh story that marries fantasy and science-fiction in an original way, then this is the book for you. This beautifully crafted novel is truly a work of art—bloody, brutal, bug-filled art....more
“My husband and I arrived in a city that I shall call not Woodsland, but, rather, Dogsland. That is the name for human places in the language of the wolf packs.”
Dogsland is the setting for J. M. McDermott’s Never Knew Another, the first book in the Dogsland Trilogy. In this novel, we follow two of Erin’s Walkers – half wolf, half human, all demon hunter. When they find the skull of a half demon child, they leave their woods to explore the city, following the memories left behind in the skull to chase down other demon children. The story is narrated from the first person viewpoint of one of these Walkers, whose name cannot be uttered in the human tongue. The memories she sees introduce us to Jona, the owner of the memories, and his lover Rachel, also a demon child.
Shades of gray This two-sided nature of Never Knew Another, exploring both demons and demon hunters, erases all boundaries of right and wrong and takes readers on a dark journey filled with shades of gray. This is not an adventurous story of hunter and prey, but a tragic love story of two lonely and frightened people who know that when their true heritage is discovered, they will be burned alive for it. Neither has ever known another demon child, and when they meet, they are finally able to share who they are.
Weird rhythm Dark, strange, and poetic, Never Knew Another can be typified as a fourteenth century urban fantasy. The style of writing is very different than anything I’ve read before. It is fast, sharp, creative, and almost philosophic at times. It’s as though McDermott planned every word carefully, creating a book that reads like a page-turner, not for its suspense, but for its weird rhythm and raw emotion, with hints of original magic.
A beautiful city The city of Dogsland is beautifully crafted. The mud in the streets of the poor district, the stench of dead animals in the pens, and the shallow parties where the noble ladies try to impress each other feel as realistic as walking through a fourteenth century city filled with people with their own stories, fears and dreams. When I read about the rainstorms drenching everything, I felt as though I was sitting in the rain myself. When I read about the hot, stale, windowless rooms, the room around me felt hot. McDermott’s greatest skill is definitely his writing style that makes the world he created come to life for me.
Colliding timelines and stale plots The characters in Never Knew Another will draw you in and carry you away. The conflicts they face every day and the struggles between doing what’s right and doing what is needed to survive a life as a demon are truly enthralling. At times, though, the number of viewpoints and the randomness of memories and intertwined timelines make this book a bit hard to read. For instance, during some paragraphs set in the past, a random thought from the present is thrown in unexpectedly.
However, the biggest problem I had with this novel was the lack of progress. This is without a doubt a brilliant book, but there aren’t enough events to carry it. Only near the end were a little mystery and political scheming thrown in the spice things up. For me, this came too late.
Why should you read this book? Any fan of the genre might like McDermott’s novel. Whether you like Steampunk, Epic, Low or Urban Fantasy, or if you enjoy reading something weird and different, you will enjoy this. Never Knew Another is a wonderful story of emotions and conflicts set in an atmosphere that will blow you away. This novel had the potential to push the boundaries of the fantasy genre, becoming a fantasy and perhaps even literary classic, but though it is good, the lack of events and the mere 230 pages of the book aren’t sufficient to make this a classic. I hold high hopes for the sequels, though....more
I don’t usually read urban fantasy, especially not the trashy, fallen angel type (obviously, “trashy” is my own opinion — a wrong one at that, as this review will prove). So even though I heard good things about Stina Leicht’s Of Blood and Honey, I vowed never to read it. Of course, I did read it in the end… and I blame Leicht for that. She abused a Twitter conversation in order to convince me. “It has car chases,” she promised. Considering no book from Night Shade Publishers has ever let me down (they are quickly turning into my favorite publisher; you should check them out, if you haven’t already!) I decided to buy Leicht’s debut novel. It’s urban fantasy with fallen angels, and I loved it… Where did I go wrong?
Cars, races and characters As promised, there were car chases. In fact, there was even a rally race. The way these scenes are written is exhilarating. I’m a fan of all things motor racing, and Leicht perfectly captures everything I love about the sport. I hear she even rally raced as part of her research… Isn’t she cool?
Don’t let the cars and the racing mislead you, though. This isn’t a novelization of The Fast and the Furious. Of Blood and Honey focuses on its characters — their love, their struggles, their pain, and their tragedy. Against the backdrop of the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in 1970s’ Ireland, we follow Liam, a regular Catholic boy, as he falls in love, gets married, and joins the IRA. What he doesn’t know, however, is that he isn’t so regular after all. While the world thinks his father was a Protestant Marine, Liam is actually the son of a Fey soldier, a shape shifter. And these Fey — a group of faeries and the original inhabitants of Ireland — are fighting an ancient war against fallen angels.
Of Blood and Honey explores the struggles of a boy who is half man, half something else, as he is forced to deal with the monster inside himself. This tragic tale unfolds in a very believable way. Leicht’s characters might even be better than her rally races and car chases. Often in fantasy, characters seem to get over life changing revelations rather easily. That isn’t the case for Liam, and the result is a story that had me going through the pages as fast as I could, on the edge of my seat. It isn’t that a lot happens plot-wise, especially not in the first half of the book, but Leicht’s characters are so well-constructed, so believable and realistic, that I just had to know what would happen next. I fell in love with Mary Kate, Liam’s love interest, when he did; I hated the British soldiers when Liam did; I felt betrayed when Liam was betrayed.
I don’t like fallen angels, but I love roller coasters Yet, when it felt like the tragedy in Liam’s life couldn’t be more unbearable, and when the story became so overwhelming and exciting that I wanted to take a break but couldn’t bring myself to put the book down, Of Blood and Honey took a turn like a roller coaster ride, events unfolding one after another at breakneck speed.
Atmospheric nemesis All of this takes place against a very well-researched historical background. I have never been very interested in the British/Irish conflicts of the seventies, but after finishing Of Blood and Honey, I found myself spending an hour on Wikipedia, reading up on the events portrayed in the story. Leicht has created a very edgy and dark atmosphere, exactly how I imagine Ireland must have been at the time. In a way, this very atmosphere feels like a character in the book. There are so many British and Protestant institutions and soldiers, they are bound to become a big blur to a reader — they did to me, anyway — yet, because of the darkness of this version of Ireland, they are an entity, a nemesis. At every turn, a BA (British Army soldier) tends to show up, and no character in Of Blood and Honey is safe at any time.
Why should you read this book? This alternate history/urban fantasy novel is for every fan of the fantasy genre, really. Just look at me — I usually don’t like this sort of book, and I loved it. Leicht has a way with words and characters that makes every single one of the book’s nearly three hundred pages interesting. The pacing and atmosphere of Of Blood and Honey are truly phenomenal, making it a contender for 2011’s best debut....more
Fenrir is the sequel to M. D. Lachlan’s brilliant fantasy debut, Wolfsangel, and the second installment in his unnamed Norse werewolf series. Now, many readers will have but one question regarding this book: “Is it as good as Wolfsangel?” The answer, in my opinion, is an emphatic “yes.” While the two novels are quite different in a number of ways, Fenrir lives up to the high expectations set by its predecessor, and, in many cases, exceeds them.
A struggle throughout the ages Fenrir is set approximately 100 years after the events of Wolfsangel, in an early medieval Paris set alight by the torches of Viking invaders. The hordes lay siege to the city, yet strangely their leaders demand not slaves or riches, but the Count’s sister, Aelis. They are not alone in seeking the young woman—the raven priests of Odin also hunt her, as does a mysterious wolfman lurking in the shadows. Unbeknowst to Aelis, her role in these events is due to no mere machination of politics but serves a greater, more sinister purpose. The crippled and blind living saint, Jehan, is given the task of speaking to the girl and perhaps convincing her to accept her fate. However, Aelis and Jehan are about to become pawns in a mad god’s schemes. In their future lies death, madness, dark magic, and the monstrous Fenris wolf, fated to kill Odin at Ragnarok.
A new perspective on the familiar Once again, Lachlan delivers a dark and thrilling tale incorporating Norse gods and monsters, historical detail, and sinister magic into a tragically human struggle against fate. It is these human elements that stand out in this book when compared to the last. The characters are more developed and their relationships are more complex. Some old characters reappear (e.g. Loki), and we are introduced to many new ones, as well as some that are simultaneously new and familiar—the reincarnations of those in Wolfsangel. This in and of itself is one of the most interesting aspects of the novel, as we learn more about each of the major players from an entirely different perspective. We see who they have become and how they react in vastly different circumstances. For instance, Adisla is no longer a farmer’s daughter but the highborn lady Aelis, and as a result, she acts quite differently in some regards while still retaining certain characteristics from her previous incarnation. In other cases, the differences are even more pronounced, and Lachlan keeps the reader guessing who is actually who in relation to the previous novel. Often he manages to surprise in this respect.
Enhanced characterization While the characters in Wolfsangel were already believable and human, Lachlan takes his characterization to a whole new level in Fenrir. Each character develops as an individual, has their own flaws, and almost every one displays some degree of moral ambiguity. The protagonists are never completely irreproachable, while the antagonists never come across as wholly evil or without motivation for their actions. In many cases you may well find yourself sympathizing with a character you initially wrote off as irredeemable.
Another noteworthy improvement regards the female protagonist Aelis/Adisla, who takes on a much greater role than she did in Wolfsangel. She evolves from being possibly the least developed of the protagonists to one of the most well characterized. In addition, she displays greater agency and is much more proactive character instead of being a hapless victim dragged into a struggle not of her own making. Personally, I found this made her much easier to relate to and a much more well-rounded character than she was previously. There is also a much greater focus on the feelings and internal struggles of the characters in this book, as they come to understand much of what is happening to them, and endeavor to fight against their fates. Can they really rebel against the inevitable and defy a god? There’s only one way to find out…
Evocative prose and an immersive atmosphere Lachlan’s writing, already proficient in Wolfsangel, is further perfected in Fenrir, fully immersing the reader in this strange world of gods and monsters. There were moments when I could almost hear the dripping of moisture in a dark cave or see the light streaming down through the canopy of a forest. Lachlan excels at creating atmosphere and pays great attention to historical detail, effortlessly evoking a bygone age. Although lyrical and flowing, the writing never distracts from the story and the historical aspects are incorporated seamlessly into the plot. For instance, we are not told about the differences and conflicts between Christian and Norse religion, but come to understand them through Jehan’s interactions with his companions. In fact, some of the more amusing moments in what is otherwise quite a dark novel involve the Vikings pragmatism in response to Jehan’s attempts to convert them (they’ll believe in his god if his god brings them a shelter or makes them fiercer warriors) or misinterpretation of each others customs.
A dark and brutal tale Fenrir is even darker and more intense than its predecessor, and includes a few somewhat disturbing and rather graphic scenes that I would not recommend to anyone with a weak stomach. Nevertheless, these scenes are used in context with the rest of the story and often play important roles in the progression of the narrative. Though many of the events depicted throughout the novel are undeniably violent and often horrific, they are never depicted in an overly gratuitous manner or included purely for shock value with no relation to the plot. The novel is set in a brutal age and Lachlan does not try to sugarcoat this, provide an idealized version of history, or glorify bloodshed. Often, I felt this added to the authenticity of the story and made the fantastical elements more believable. Additionally, the juxtaposition of the more tender human moments with the gory or violent scenes increased the impact of the story as a whole.
A more linear, character driven plot Fenrir is a longer book (by around 200 pages) than Wolfsangel, and the plot unfolds in a primarily linear fashion, without as many jumps between time-frames . Some readers have mentioned the pacing of Fenrir is also marginally slower; however, I see this an inevitable by-product of the greater focus on character development. Personally, I felt getting to know the characters better—and, as a result, caring more about what happens to them—more than compensated for a slower pace. All things considered, the plot is still thrilling, the world still fascinating, and the pace quite fast compared to many other novels.
When reading Fenrir, one must keep in mind that this is but the second book in a longer series (the exact number of installments is not yet finalized), and as such may not offer the reader the closure they may desire. Those hoping for a decisive conclusion to the overall storyline are setting themselves up for disappointment. Personally, I am thrilled that there are to be more books after Fenrir and was quite satisfied with the ending. It provides a conclusion to this chapter in an ongoing struggle and hints at how circumstances may change in the books that follow.
Why should you read this book? If you haven’t already done so, I would strongly suggest you read Wolfsangel before picking up Fenrir. In fact, if you haven’t read Wolfsangel, why are you wasting time reading this review? Stop immediately, go get your hands on a copy, and read that instead. If you read and loved the first book like I did, I would definitely recommend you read this one as well, as, in my opinion, it is even better. While Fenrir is an engrossing and well-written story in its own right, it is an excellent second book in what is shaping up to be a brilliant multi-volume series. Honestly, the worst thing about this novel is the fact I now have to wait for the next one....more
It will hopefully be obvious to anyone who has read the Inheritance trilogy—or read our reviews of The Hundred-Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of Gods—that N.K. Jemisin is an exemplary innovator of the fantasy genre. Her fresh take on epic fantasy pushes the boundaries of imagination, and her work might well be destined to become a literary classic one day, with its ingenious new settings, themes, viewpoints, character dynamics, and magic.
With The Killing Moon, first in the Dreamblood duology, Jemisin continues this trend. While The Killing Moon is her first more mainstream novel, using viewpoints and themes that fans of epic fantasy are better used to, it remains refreshing with its non-western setting, strong female protagonist, interesting character dynamics, and wonderful magic system. Jemisin does this like only she can, successfully blending traditional high fantasy with contemporary literature and creating a masterwork that further underlines Jemisin’s rise to genre stardom.
Questions of culture The riveting setting of The Killing Moon is the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, which is modeled after ancient Egypt. When you think of a setting modeled after Egypt, you might expect gods with the heads of crocodiles and dogs, pyramids, and pharaohs. Nothing is further from the truth. Instead of looking at the superficial elements of ancient Egypt, Jemisin dedicated herself to building a fictional culture based on the ancient Egyptian culture. Don’t expect stereotypes here; the worldbuilding in The Killing Moon runs much deeper and is, because of it, much more brilliant.
This cultural model forms the foundation of the novel’s themes. While, as I stated above, the themes of The Killing Moon are more mainstream than other elements of this story—The Killing Moon is an epic about a war between two nations—Jemisin wouldn’t be Jemisin if these themes didn’t run deeper than they appear at first glance. Magic is the defining trait of Gujaareh’s culture. Gatherers harvest their magic from the dreams of others. Their duty is to kill those judged corrupt, leading them into a blissful dream world of their own creation and gathering their magic in the process. This magic creates a moral rift between Gujaareh and its neighboring nations, who are appalled by the Gatherers’ practices.
Driven by character The Killing Moon is the story of Ehiru, a Gatherer, his apprentice Nijiri, and Sinandi, an emissary from a neighboring culture. These characters are each of them unique and well-written. The dynamic between them is astounding. There is the relationship between the old and lackluster Ehiru and his faithful, loving, and energetic apprentice—and it is extraordinary how casually Jemisin writes about homosexuality, making it an integral part of her characters yet never drawing attention to it directly. In stark contrast stands the relationship between the strong and headstrong Sinandi and Ehiru, which is driven by Sinandi’s culturally defined hatred of the practices of the Gatherer combined with her growing respect of the type of man he is. On their own, each of these characters discovers a deep-running corruption at the heart of Gujaareh—a corruption that may lead to a war between Sinandi’s nation and the powerful city-state. They find themselves working together to save both of their nations from imminent doom.
Minor pacing problems While the elements described above are sufficient to make The Killing Moon one of the year’s best books, I did have some problems with its pacing and the way high fantasy tropes were blended with contemporary themes. This composition of tropes and themes creates a book that reads much like a traditional epic, yet slows down at times to establish focus on cultural and moral themes. At some instances during the first half of the book, the pacing of The Killing Moon took me off guard because of that. Fortunately, the pace picks up for the second half—the breath-taking conclusion, especially, sets a frenetic pace. Despite these problems, Jemisin’s gorgeous prose and the depth of her narration ensure that The Killing Moon never had a completely dull moment.
Why should you read this book? Jemisin’s innovative blend of high and contemporary fantasy elements should appeal to anyone who enjoys reading traditional epics, as well as those tired of reading the same recycled tropes over and over again. The Killing Moon is an honest and gorgeously wrought work of art, driven by strong characters and unique cultural and moral dilemmas. Its inventive worldbuilding and creative magic make this novel a true jewel of epic fantasy. If you’ve always wanted to check out Jemisin’s work but haven’t gotten around to it yet, The Killing Moon provides the perfect place to start. It will hopefully establish her much deserved position as a giant of fantasy with a more mainstream following....more
The Samaritan begins when Dale Sampson is in the sixth grade. Girls don’t talk to him. And when the school baseball star, Mack, decides to befriend Dale, Dale earns an air of mystique—but he remains luckless when it comes to the opposite sex. Later in high school, when Dale is about to graduate, when it seems he may finally win the girl of his dreams, those dreams are shattered.
So when he discovers that he can regenerate his body parts, he decides that if he can’t improve his own life, he’ll put his regenerative powers to save others—starting with the twin sister of his dream girl, the sister who married an abusive husband.
A strong, honest voice The Samaritan is written from the first-person perspective, and Dale lays out his life and feelings with such raw and brutal honesty that even if you don’t like him, you understand him, you trust him, you sympathize with him. So when Dale thinks the unthinkable, instead of believing him a villain, you instead see what dark thoughts can result from the hope of love after a long lack of human contact. And you forgive him because sometimes even your own mind can betray you. Forgiveness is more than Dale can grant himself, however, so he decides to seek redemption.
A difficult journey The Samaritan captures small town life—the friendships that grow from self-congratulation that end up holding together because of self-pity, the dreams that turn into hopelessness, the great beyond revealing itself as nothing more than another trapped existence. Then there’s life, of course, that pitcher who won’t stop throwing curve balls. As much as Dale knows he’s never going to be normal, he keeps striving to be special on his own terms. But life has other plans.
A story about human connections For a loner like Dale, his supernatural power is the only thread connecting him to others. As he exploits this connection, he manages to distance himself even further. His journey, which consists of effort after effort to claw his way back from the dark pit of guilt and despair, is a fascinating and powerful one, but it is not for the faint of heart—I must warn readers that this book does contain a violent rape scene.
Why should you read this book? This is an extremely strong debut, and with Venturini’s insights into human nature and smart writing style, it’s easy to see why the budding Blank Slate Press chose Venturini as one of its flagship authors. Who knows how many books it will take for Venturini to garner the attention he deserves, but why not say you knew him when? Pick up a copy of The Samaritan and find out for yourself.
Benni received a review copy courtesy of Blank Slate Press and TLC Book Tours....more
Although The Drowned Cities is marketed as a sequel to Ship Breaker, it can stand as a completely independent novel, with only one character from Ship Breaker appearing again in The Drowned Cities.
Set in the same unspecified future point in which Ship Breaker took place—a future where resources have become scarce, governments have collapsed, and the gap between the rich and the poor has become almost insurmountably wide—The Drowned Cities focuses on a young girl named Mahlia and a young boy called Mouse in the waterlogged ruins of Washington, D.C.
A masterfully crafted setting As he did in his previous novels, Bacigalupi proves to be a master of setting. His talent for using a few carefully chosen words to bring his setting to life is simply unrivaled by most other authors I’ve read. Although there are hints all throughout The Drowned Cities that this world is same one in which Ship Breaker took place, the half-drowned remains of America’s capital city is an environment unlike anything Bacigalupi has tackled before; and he paints it with such a degree of detail that you’ll wonder if he’s been to our future himself. Bacigalupi is never so blunt as to tell us exactly what landmarks his characters are encountering, as they know little of the modern era that we live in, which they refer to as the Accelerated Age; but his details never leave it unclear to the reader. It’s downright chilling to see some of the most famous buildings in America reduced to meaningless hideouts for self-styled warlords in a flooded city, but it always feels completely plausible. Our era is nothing more than an ancient, half-understood history to the characters in The Drowned Cities, and the things we built and cherished are nothing more than the crumbling backdrop to the perpetual wars and power plays between the rival factions that have risen from the ruins. To put it simply, The Drowned Cities contains one of the most sharply realized settings I’ve encountered in fiction—as you read, you’ll feel the squish of mud in your boots, the howling of genetically-engineered coywolves in the distance, and the sear of hot metal against your flesh. No one creates setting like Bacigalupi; this is the work of a storyteller who is an absolute master of his craft.
Is this really YA? The Drowned Cities is marketed for young adults, as was Ship Breaker, but Bacigalupi once again pushes the boundary of that demographic to its absolute limit—and maybe just a little bit beyond. The Hunger Games sparked a fair amount of controversy with its depictions of violence between children, but The Drowned Cities takes the same issue and brings it to a whole new level; children are snatched up by warring military factions and turned into soldiers or killed. There’s no question that this is a book for mature readers, and Bacigalupi refuses to back away from depictions of brutal violence—it’s part of the world that The Drowned Cities takes place in. It’s not gratuitous, it’s just real. This is a future where everyone is vying for power, and it’s through violence that they get it.
In addition to the violence, Bacigalupi steers away from the standards of YA, having multiple viewpoint characters. The story skips back and forth between different characters with every chapter, and yet each character’s story is so intertwined with each of the others that their viewpoints always feel relevant to the main plot. Bacigalupi also proves to be incredibly skilled at altering the reader’s perception of each character depending on whose eyes we’re looking through; few authors can pull off these switches with such fluidity, and Bacigalupi is one of the best.
Completely satisfying, beginning to end The more books I read, the more I find that modern authors seem to struggle with endings; it’s usually with a book’s climax that I find myself most dissatisfied. Bacigalupi, however, knows how to do it right—one of the few who do, it seems. The opening chapters of The Drowned Cities are engaging and action-packed. While the story slows down a bit after that, Bacigalupi keeps the tension and the stakes high through the multiple viewpoints. It doesn’t take long for things to ramp up again, however, and once the book gets going, it doesn’t let up until the end—and what an ending it is. Bacigalupi’s previous books have all had very satisfying climaxes, but this is perhaps his best one yet. At once both explosive and emotional, with characters you care about on both sides of the conflict, the climax of The Drowned Cities contains some of the most intense pages that I’ve read all year. And when I finally closed the book, I felt something that I don’t feel all that often: completely, totally satisfied with what I had just read.
Why should you read this book? Bacigalupi is one of the few authors that I can comfortably rely on to produce top-notch material with every new book, but he really has outdone himself with The Drowned Cities, creating something truly remarkable. While The Drowned Cities may not achieve the complexity of Bacigalupi’s debut novel The Windup Girl, and while it may not be as instantly absorbing as Ship Breaker, it’s nothing less than a stellar book. The Drowned Cities is arguably Bacigalupi’s best novel to date, and without a doubt one of the best novels of the year—you owe it to yourself to read this book. You won’t be disappointed....more
Among Thieves is Douglas Hulick’s debut novel and part of his new Tales of the Kin series. It is the story of a dangerous city, Ildrecca, and an ancient, constantly reincarnating emperor who rules not just the city but the world. Among Thieves is a story of mystery–approaching the feel of a detective novel–and of gritty epic fantasy filled with thieves, assassins, and other figures from the underworld.
A refreshing perspective A first-person narrative in fantasy usually has a purpose: a bored innkeeper tells a chronicler the story of how he was once famous, or the main character is actually having a conversation with a god in her mind. Among Thieves is told from a first-person perspective as well, yet it has no ulterior motive. In fact, all it offers is a very refreshing epic told from one viewpoint instead of multiple viewpoints.
While reading this novel, the benefits of this narrative immediately become clear. Not only is the focus primarily on action and suspense, without slowing the story down by telling it from a wider angle, but the character that is being built this way is one of the best characters in fantasy to date. Instead of looking from the outside in, the reader truly gets to know Drothe and all his motives, seeing how he views the world and the people around him. More than that, the writing as Drothe tells us about his world is incredibly well done. He takes us along into the underworld he lives in and briefly informs us of any background we need as the story develops. There are no big info dumps that throw off the pace of the story, just small flashes of background while the action takes place. If you’ve ever watched the television series Burn Notice, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Nosing around mysteries Drothe is a Nose, a member of the Kin, who works finding out information for a crime lord. Unlike Ears, who just relay small pieces of information, Noses puzzle the small pieces together into a bigger picture.
When he’s not nosing around, Drothe collects valuable relics. Among Thieves throws us into the middle of the action as Drothe is tracking down a lost relic that points to a bigger mystery. When his boss calls upon him to track down who is crossing him in the slums of Ten Ways, the mysteries soon collide and Drothe realizes that something big is going down. From there, the story never slows down, leading you from trying to fit together various pieces of the story to fighting assassins and crime lords.
Among Thieves will keep you guessing until the very end, throwing dilemmas at you that you’ll want to resolve just as badly as Drothe himself. Most importantly, through all the action and suspense, the story stays true to itself, never once faltering or slowing down and never once making us doubt the believability of Drothe or his friends.
Character-driven despite the action Drothe is smart, witty, funny, and honorable, but most importantly, he isn’t your all-powerful hero. In fact, he’s small and weak and hardly ever wins a fight on strength alone. Instead, he relies on his wits and his friends. Despite the amazing action, pacing, and suspense, Drothe is what truly makes Among Thieves one of the best books I’ve read in a while. The fact that the novel doesn’t offer anything that we haven’t already seen in fantasy doesn’t change the book’s greatness: Among Thieves is a perfect mix of all the familiar tropes and elements of the genre.
Running through Ildrecca’s streets The world and atmosphere, too, make this one of this year’s best debuts, an assertion I don’t hesitate to make even though the year has barely begun. The city of Ildrecca perfectly fits the story’s needs, with a gritty atmosphere, a mysterious air, and many different factions that expand the scope of the city in a very realistic way. I could almost see myself running through Ildrecca’s streets alongside Drothe. The brief pieces of history relayed by Drothe during the story only serve to further increase this scope. The alternative use of magic, set up almost as an afterthought yet still important to the story, adds to the story’s originality and creativity.
However, I would lie if I said the world-building was perfect. The first person perspective clearly works to limit Hulick’s world-building, and that feels like an opportunity missed. I’d love to see more of the world and the empire in future Tales of the Kin.
Why should you read this book? As I said, Douglas Hulick is definitely a contender for the best debuting author of the year. His debut novel isn’t quite as good as Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind, but Among Thieves is definitely up to par with a lot of other debuts like Sanderson’s Elantris, Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man, or Brent Weeks’ Way of Shadows. If you’re a fan of any of these, you owe it to yourself to give Among Thieves a try. If you’re a fan of mysterious, exciting, and action-packed epic fantasy, you should definitely pick it up as well. I promise you, it’s a hell of a read that you won’t put down until you finish it....more
With The Order of the Scales, Stephen Deas concludes his epic dragon trilogy A Memory of Flames. Where The Adamantine Palace was pretty decent and The King of the Crags was pretty good, The Order of the Scales is pretty brilliant. This final volume — which is definitely not the last we’ve seen of Deas’ epic world — picks up the story just before the ending of The King of the Crags and immediately explores all the elements of the previous books a little deeper than before.
Love and hate Again, The Order of the Scales is like a rollercoaster ride with turns and twists and new thrilling discoveries behind every curve. It has the same elements as its predecessors: darkness, intrigue, murders, dragons and political schemes. However, this time the characters don’t engage as much in these political schemes, as they are forced to face the consequences of their earlier scheming.
Because of this, we finally get to truly explore the characters, something that was lacking before. While the characters of The King of the Crags were a huge improvement upon those of the first book in terms of individuality and realism, Deas has managed to give them a whole new dimension in The Order of the Scales, exploring their motivations, their passions and their fears. What was left of good and evil after The King of the Crags disappears and we are left with characters who a reader can both love and hate at the same time.
Deas the butcher The best characters, however, are still the dragons… Lots of dragons! As more and more of them enter the story, the stakes are definitely raised. No character — or city, for that matter — is safe. With the way Deas treats his characters, that’s all too true; any character, at any time in the story, can unexpectedly face a brutal death, whether it’s being ripped apart by these amazing and horrifying dragons or any number of other random but equally horrible deaths. You never know what will happen, and up to the very last page, you have no idea who will win — dragons or humans — and who will live.
Finally, some real world building! The best thing about The Order of the Scales is its world building. If you’ve read my reviews of the previous books, you know my main problem with Deas’ trilogy is the lack of world building, even if this lack did favor the storytelling. Fortunately, Deas has dealt with this flaw and finally given his world the attention it deserves. What’s more, he has done this without decreasing the pace. In The Order of the Scales, we get to truly glimpse the world through the eyes of the dragons and Kemir, a sell-sword whose journey leads him from one end of the land to the other. Finally, Deas takes the time to take in the scenery and describe what this world looks like.
We also get to really meet the Taiytakei, the mysterious peoples from across the ocean. While learning more about them, the true mystery of the world is only just taking shape. We are introduced to several new and intriguing magic systems — like the Elemental Men, who can take the shapes of the elements, or the Silver Kings, magicians with amazing and mysterious power — that are eagerly awaiting further exploration in future novels set in this world.
Epic to the core This is how epic fantasy should be: horrifying dragons, political intrigue, mystery, epic world building, neck-breaking pace, interesting magic and breathtaking battle sequences. There is no wrong or right, there are no heroes; there is only blind ambition, blind devotion, and a struggle to survive. With all its layers and subplots, and a different agenda for pretty much every character, The Order of the Scales proves to be a complex story that will never grow dull.
Why should you read this book? The Order of the Scales is a huge improvement on its predecessors. If you’ve previously read any of the books in the Memory of Flames trilogy, I highly recommend reading this one as well. If you haven’t, you should definitely give The Adamantine Palace a shot. This is a great end to a trilogy and an even greater start to a bigger story that will hopefully continue soon with Stephen Deas’ next novel The Black Mausoleum, set in the same world with some of the same characters....more
Every Sanderson novel has all you ever need from a fantasy story. They have perfect, feel-good stories with characters to love and identify with. They offer mysteries to be solved and lots of subtle hints and foreshadowing to involve the readers. They have creative magic systems and intriguing worlds. And they have healthy doses of action and suspense with hints of romance.
A new story, three hundred years later The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel is no exception to this. The fourth book set on Scadrial, the world previously seen in the bestselling Mistborn trilogy, The Alloy of Law is set several hundred years after the climactic events of The Hero of Ages, in a reborn world where the original cast have become almost mythological and their deeds legendary. In a way, they have become something akin to caricatures of what they once were, time decaying their memory into stories. Names like Ironeyes, Ascendant Warrior, Last Emperor, Survivor, and Harmony have become titles both reverent and religious to many.
Waxilium Ladrian, affectionately known as Wax, is a rare Twinborn—someone who wields both a Feruchemical and Allomantic power—and he can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After spending twenty years as a lawkeeper in the Roughs, the Scadrial equivalent of the Wild West, Wax is called back to the metropolis of Elendel to take his deceased uncle’s place as head of House Ladrian. Though Waxillium is trying to put away his guns and lead a respectable life, a group of criminals is robbing Elendel’s elite and kidnapping noble women, and the reluctant Wax, helped by his friend Wayne and the young Lady Marasi, seems to be the only one who can stop them.
A cleverly reinvented world There is one thing that The Alloy of Law lacks that all of Sanderson’s other works have, and in my opinion, this very lack makes this one of Sanderson’s best novels. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sanderson’s worldbuilding and his creative ways of introducing readers to a world, but with The Alloy of Law taking place in an already existing world, with the magic system previously established, there is a lot less worldbuilding in this story. Yet, I believe readers who haven’t read the Mistborn trilogy will still be able to thoroughly enjoy The Alloy of Law. Sanderson gives just the right amount of background needed for the story and doesn’t bother explaining the rest of the world in detail. Instead, this is a fairly straightforward novel with more attention for the story and the character dynamic.
Brandon Sanderson did something rather remarkable with Alloy of Law. He took the strict social and magical rules that governed the old series and let them mingle. This has allowed many of the mechanics to change both subtly and violently, allowing enormous new possibilities for his writing. The world has changed, and so has the way people perceive the magic of Scadrial. Technology has mingled with the magic, leading to amazing magical gunfights and other extraordinary feats.
Magic in all its forms Sanderson handles the Twinborn perfectly; he creatively harnesses the dual abilities to turn them into something unique for each character. The main character, Wax, manipulates his powers to handle situations in ways unexpected for the reader, adding a lot of fun to The Alloy of Law. Bendalloy is used frequently in this book, adding temporal elements to many scenes. Sanderson shows his true creative powers in designing magical combinations and possibilities that a reader can’t even predict. This was a definite strong point for The Alloy of Law, letting it feel like a Mistborn novel, yet bestowing on it a sense of individuality and vibrancy.
A bold and enigmatic set of characters While Sanderson’s characters have always been likable, their flatness and flawlessness have often been a weakness in his writing. With The Way of Kings, he already proved he was getting better, and with The Alloy of Law, Sanderson continues to demonstrate improvement. The characters of The Alloy of Law are each bold and enigmatic and very memorable. In most books, there are major characters that just fail to evoke a lasting image, but Sanderson has crafted each of these characters brilliantly. Wayne is an obvious standout, with all of his quirks and accents; he develops as a character that brings a new perspective to the term “multifaceted.” Wax, the primary protagonist, is almost like a superhero when viewed externally, but becomes grounded and relatable when observed from within his mind.
The females of The Alloy of Law are intriguing, handling the pressures of society and social stigma in differing ways. They are never just a flat part of the plot, like so many female fictional characters have been written throughout the course of fantasy as a genre. One of the most interesting pieces of feminism in The Alloy of Law was the academic course on the Ascendant Warrior as a powerful woman at the University of Elendel.
Core themes that shift slightly While the story mostly takes place in the city of Elendel, there are scenes outside the great city, adding contrast and a layer of socioeconomic and judicial philosophy to the story, themes that the original Mistborn series centered around. The protagonists are all lawkeepers or have a direct relationship to such a career and it shapes their view of the world, with subtly different shadings between each point of view. For the first time, Sanderson has truly mastered the morally ambiguous antagonist: a bad guy who believes he is doing the right thing and has believable motivations to do what he does.
Why should you read this novel? The Alloy of Law is a short novel, but never flagging. It starts slowly, but quickly becomes intense and detailed as the action picks up and the story fully grabs you. Despite some predictable twists, there are still moments where it takes you places you didn’t expect. The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson is a riveting, action-packed story that reinvents the world of Mistborn with a bold new set of characters, witty dialogue and a revolutionized setting. This is a novel any fantasy fan should read. Whether you are a fan of the epic, the urban, or steampunk, The Alloy of Law has it all. Please give us a sequel, Mr. Sanderson!...more
Moon Over Soho is the second book in Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, the first being Midnight Riot (U.S.) or Rivers of London (U.K.). In his first adventure, Peter Grant, a magic-wielding constable, investigated a series of crimes tied to the theater. This time around, in Moon Over Soho, Peter takes on jazz: When a part-time jazz musician drops dead from what seems like a heart attack, the jazz notes lingering on his corpse indicate a supernatural cause of death, requiring the investigative work of our charming Mr. Grant.
Read It Fast or Read It Slow I previously noted that Midnight Riot was a “fun and fast read,” but I must clarify. Both Peter Grant books are “fun and fast” thanks to the abundant humor, action, and adventure. But readers seeking something more will also find Aaronovitch’s attention to history, popular culture, geography, and science rewarding.
A Rich, Alternate London In a sense, all urban fantasy novels are alternate histories, exploring what our world would be like if magic, vampires, werewolves, etc. existed. Where other urban fantasy novels may decide to gloss over this alternate history aspect, Aaronovitch explores it to the series’s credit. For example, in the Peter Grant world, a certain past famous scientist wrote an entire treatise on magic. Contemporary scientists also have genetic theories as to why preternatural beings exist, such as the woman with the vagina dentata, whose victims bleed to death. And when Peter is asked to fix the damage caused by magic with more magic, he explains that doing so may be ineffective; i.e., you use balms and creams to heal a burn, not more fire.
In my review of Midnight Riot, I claimed there was little in common with the Harry Potter series (as noted by a cover blurb), except that Latin words were associated with the casting of spells. What that means for Peter Grant, though, is that he also actually has to study Latin. These small touches that ground the story in reality enhance the magical aspects in return.
A Charming Lead Anchoring all the magic, action, and science is Peter Grant, who provides a strong center for the series, aptly named in his honor. Unrefined as his humor may be (and as expected from a London constable), Peter is nevertheless that charming scoundrel you want not only to hang out with, but also to back you in dangerous situations.
Police Procedural with Insights Part of Aaronovitch’s attention to detail involves insight into forensic investigations, and should appeal to fans of police procedurals. Some examples:
I showed her my warrant card, and she stared at it in confusion. You get that about half the time, mainly because most members of the public have never seen a warrant card close up and have no idea what the hell it is.
“Would you like me to arrest you?” I asked. That’s an old police trick: If you just warn people they often just ignore you, but if you ask them a question then they have to think about it. Once they start to think about the consequences they almost always calm down, unless they’re drunk of course, or stoned, or aged between fourteen and twenty-one, or Glaswegian.
Why Should You Read This Book? Aaronovitch once half-jokingly touted Midnight Riot as a “book that [his family] called the best book ever written by anyone ever in the history of time.” Midnight Riot was a very strong start to the Peter Grant series, but I held back on rating it a full 5 stars in part because I wasn’t sure how the series would progress. While my praise for Moon Over Soho may fall short of the Aaronovitch family’s praise of Midnight Riot, Moon Over Soho cements the Peter Grant series as my favorite urban fantasy series. The humor, the world-building, the action, the magic, the mystery, the procedural—all are top-notch....more
In a world where magic is real, how would it feel to be ordinary? Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendson, book one of the Enchanted series, introduces us to Katie Chandler, a truly ordinary Texas girl in New York. Katie has been deleting the vague e-mailed job offers from MSI, Inc., but when her dreadful Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde boss drives her to desperation, she decides to see what MSI has to offer.
In the strangest job interview I’ve ever heard of, Katie learns that magic is real and that elves, fairies, wizards, and gargoyles exist. MSI – Magic, Spells, and Illusions – searches for rare people like Katie with no trace of magic in them who are therefore immune to the effects of magic. It doesn’t take long for Katie to accept their job offer.
An engaging pace Within her first week at MSI, Katie manages to catch an invisible spy, befriend the elderly CEO, develop a crush on a coworker, and involve herself in an effort to take care of Phelan Idris, a disgruntled ex-employee with an unfortunate interest in black magic. Events, both magical and commonplace, whoosh past at a pace that leaves Katie, and the reader, feeling slightly overwhelmed. The words don’t get in the way of the story, and while there are some scenes without much action, the story maintains a brisk, engaging pace. This book is possible to put down, but I don’t expect you’ll want to stop reading until the end.
The familiar and unfamiliar Swendson starts the reader off with a familiar scene: a chronically single woman working at a dead-end job for a terrible boss, barely making enough to get by. Anyone who’s dreaded going to work in the morning, pinched pennies, or had a mind-numbingly boring blind date can relate to Katie’s life. But when she is thrown headfirst into the unfamiliar, talking to gargoyles suddenly seems perfectly natural to me. This smooth transition from our familiar New York to Katie’s magical New York is certainly aided by the first-person narration as the reader gets to experience the sudden paradigm shift right along with Katie. And she handles the changes well, at least until a girl’s night out with her new coworkers ends with them in Central Park kissing frogs.
Swendson smoothly introduces the unfamiliar to a familiar world, taking a familiar fantasy trope – that of the protagonist learning that magic is real and that she can use it, often to save the world – and turns it on its head with a heroine who learns that she can’t use magic at all. Yet that very lack of magic is what makes Katie so interesting to me. Even though she’s a perfectly ordinary woman, she doesn’t sit back and leave saving the world to the powerful wizards. This creative twist on a common premise is pulled off masterfully.
Just a hint of romance Fortunately for those like me who enjoy a little romance, the magical tension developing between MSI and Idris is balanced by the perfectly commonplace stream of eligible bachelors Katie’s roommate tries to set her up with. From the blind date who spoke two words to her the entire evening and then declared she was like a sister, to the former frog she disenchanted who follows her around serenading her in gratitude, Katie’s romantic woes leave the reader laughing and groaning right along with her.
Those who don’t appreciate romance might be put off by the amount of time Katie spends mooning over her crush, the shy, cute, and powerful wizard in charge of Research & Development. Those who do appreciate romance might be disappointed at the lack of anything beyond mooning. Nowhere was I more frustrated with Katie than when she interacted with her crush. I found her reticence frustrating, even though I’m sure I would act the same way around such a powerful figure.
Interesting characters The world we see through Katie’s eyes is populated with believable people. Some are more likable than others, but even the ultimate villain of the story has understandable motives. The CEO maintains a lovable balance between doddering old man and incredibly powerful wizard, while the personnel manager’s sleazy, overconfident front masks an eager, boyish heart. There are also a number of interesting minor characters I look forward to seeing developed further in the future installments of the series.
Throughout the book, I found myself cheering as things went well for Katie and groaning when things went wrong. I occasionally found myself yelling at her for being an idiot, while secretly admitting that I would have done the same thing in her situation. When faced with unbelievable situations, the characters still react believably. None of the characters are perfect, but they are perfectly fun to read.
Why should you read this book? Enchanted, Inc. is a delightful frolic through the magical streets of New York. If you’re looking for a quick, light, fast-paced read, this may be the book for you....more
River of Stars is the twelfth novel by Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay and is based loosely on twelfth century China during the Song Dynasty. Like many of his works, Kay weaves historical names, places and events into a fictional tapestry that still retains the feel of historical work, while engaging the reader in the intensely character-driven style that makes his works so engrossing.
Nothing happens, and everything happens It's been my experience with fantasy lately that more and more things are becoming plot and action driven. Battles, conflicts, direct interactions seem to be the name of the game. Read any book that takes place during or around a war or invasion, and you'll find a solid percentage of the text dedicated to the action scenes: sword fights, army maneuvers, deaths, escapes. Such makes for a very attention-grabbing read, trying to keep you involved by constantly throwing something intense in your face.
In River of Stars, the opposite is true. This is the story of an invasion, of a general rising up to bring his armies to victory against a foe that seems overwhelmingly strong. And there's almost no action at all. Instead, Kay does an absolutely stunning job communicating the state of the action through implication and suggestion, concentrating instead on the characters. He shows you what these people are like, makes you come to know them, to understand them. And through this understanding, we need only see a few lines of dialogue or a short paragraph describing the action around the characters. Our knowledge of who they are fills in the rest.
It struck me about halfway through the book that more time had been spent discussing poetry than warfare, and that not only did this not detract from the work in any way, I found myself more deeply invested in what was going on than I would have been if this had been an action-oriented war novel. My connection to the characters made me care so much more about what they thought about the events happening off in the distance than I did about the events themselves.
Small stones make large ripples Another common element to most modern fantasy is that the heroic protagonist and their group makes many sweeping changes to the world around them. They are larger than life, and nobody can doubt the influence their actions (and generally only their actions) have on the world around them. Kay instead presents a world where the actions of every character, even ones of obvious societal importance—generals, emperors, ministers—really feel... not so much small. What I mean to say is that each character feels like they are just living their lives, in their world, making the decisions that they would make, guided by their beliefs and the realities of their situation.
There are no obvious moments you can point to and say "This is when the hero's destiny is revealed" or "This is when the defining moment of this character's life happened." Everything just happens. And it feels so smooth and natural and realistic that it pulls you in and keeps you there. Not a single solitary thing in this entire novel broke immersion, reeked of deus ex machina, or fell afoul of any tropes of lazy storytelling.
Historical fantasy's Daniel Day-Lewis I've always maintained, and will likely continue to maintain, that Daniel Day-Lewis is among the greatest actors of all time. While he doesn't always pick roles that have a wide-ranging mass appeal, he only picks roles that meet his incredibly high standards. His dedication to research and to method acting, completely burying himself in a role in a way that few people can even really understand, is what has led to him being the only person to win three Best Actor academy awards. His rate of appearances in movies is low, only twelve films in twenty-four years, but I've yet to see a performance that didn't utterly blow me away.
I include the above to really communicate what I am saying when I compare Guy Gavriel Kay to Daniel Day-Lewis. He is similarly non-prolific, with twelve novels in thirty years, and similarly dedicated to his craft in a way that few people seem to be. Each of his books contains an afterword which talks about the research conducted, works referenced, and experts consulted, and it just flabbergasts me. I've read his entire bibliography and not only was I not disappointed, I was hard pressed to find a single thing to complain about.
Why should you read this book? The only reason I can think of why you shouldn't read this book is if you just finished reading another book by Kay. These novels need some digestion time, to really sit down and think about what you just read. I've read several of his novels multiple times each, and the idea of reading two in a row just seems like too much. You need to relax and unwind a little with something a little lighter before you dive back into the immersive worlds Kay creates. You should read this book if you have an appreciation for expertly crafted, character-driven fantasy of the highest order; if you want to really get to know characters, to get a deep sense of them, and their place in their society and their role therein; if you want to close a book's back cover, take a deep breath, set it down, and not even consider picking up another book until you've had time to just appreciate the raw artistry you've just witnessed. That is why you should read this book....more
Midnight Riot (U.S. title) or Rivers of London (U.K. title) is the first installment in an urban fantasy series starring Peter Grant, a probationary constable. When his ghost whispering skills prove useful in the latest series of murders, Peter catches the attention of England’s last wizard, Inspector Nightingale, and finds himself immediately promoted. Now Peter just has to figure out why seemingly normal folk are committing senseless, brutal crimes that end with the victims’ faces falling off. That, and learn how to wield magic.
Well-researched The author, Ben Aaronovitch, clearly took pains to research the ins and outs of the London police force. As an American civilian, I may be unqualified to opine as to the accuracy of the representation, but I found it thoroughly convincing. The realistic day-to-day details provide a nice backdrop of verisimilitude amidst the supernatural.
Animated writing Aaronovitch’s style of writing is breezy and effortlessly humorous. He’s got an ear for quippy but realistic dialogue. He can pay tribute to theater and poke fun at the drama. He’s sensitive to visuals, so much so that as I was reading, I kept thinking that BBC should adapt this as a television series. It’s no surprise, then, that Aaronovitch is a longtime writer for various television shows including a little gem you may have heard of: Doctor Who. If Aaronovitch’s background means that he may have the inside connections to make the Peter Grant television series a reality, I’d be first in line to watch it. The fantasy television world could use a handsome mixed-race protagonist… and the fresh content too, of course.
What’s unique Diana Gabaldon’s cover praise, that Midnight Riot is “[w]hat would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz,” is a pithy pitch that will attract many readers, but nothing about Peter Grant reminded me of Harry Potter. Both are British. Both utter Latin words to incant spells. But those are the only connections.
As for the spell incantations, if you assume from this blurb that the magic and supernatural in Midnight Riot are the usual clichéd fare, you’d be wrong. There are hints that the magic could be explained by science, just not the science we know. And the ghosts aren’t, well, exactly ghosts, and they can be as funny as they are deadly, sometimes both at once. The most delightful surprise, however, lies in London’s river deities—as for that, you’ll have to read the book to learn more.
Why should you read this book? Midnight Riot is a fun and fast read. If you like urban fantasy, Peter Grant injects new life into the genre. If you don’t, this is one to get you started. You won’t even have to wait long for the next book in the series, Moon Over Soho, to be released on March 1, 2011 in the U.S., though Londoners may have to wait longer....more
Hidden Cities is the final installment in Daniel Fox’s Moshui trilogy. The first book, Dragon in Chains, and the second, Jade Man’s Skin, have already been reviewed at The Ranting Dragon. Hidden Cities begins with the exiled boy-emperor’s first victory against the rebels, but this victory is slim indeed and only happens with the luck of the dragon. In the battle’s aftermath, concubine Mei Feng convinces the emperor to send the secretly treacherous general Ping Wen across the strait to the mainland to govern the coastal city of Santung. Ping Wen soon encounters Tien, a doctor’s niece, who, in between healing rebel and imperial soldiers alike, has discovered a library full of secret, mystical books that may help recapture the all-powerful dragon. Throughout the epic battles and intrigue, many more small yet significant lives are woven, like the two broken children destroyed by war, a jade miner torn between two loves, and a mother-cum-priestess who fails to save her daughters.
Beautiful and heartrending Once again, Fox’s prose astounds. Each book in Moshui improves upon its predecessor, and Hidden Cities is full of the rich, magical, transportive writing that makes this series so unique. I’ve raved about the writing in every review, but Fox’s style is worth it. Like I’ve said before, the book’s poetry may not be to everyone’s tastes, but I will say that Fox has definitely improved his game. The action scenes in Hidden Cities, unlike in Dragon in Chains, are always immediately exciting and breathtakingly described at the same time. Despite my understandable desire to find out what happens at the end of Moshui, I’m still glad I took the time to read this book slowly and savor the language. It’s fantastic in all senses of the word.
No punches pulled The characters of Moshui’s first two novels are lively and vivid, and Hidden Cities is no different. Major characters like Mei Feng, Han, Yu Shan, and Jiao achieve even greater depth and emotional resonance, while previously minor characters like Tien, Ma Lin, and Chung are happily given more prominence.
That said, don’t expect everyone to get a happy ending. Every character in Moshui goes through hell and none of them emerge unscathed. In some places the emotional pain is so potent that the novel becomes hard to read – which is, really, the mark of a truly excellent book. Two moments even made me cry. You may not end up in tears – Fox’s gorgeous writing never makes you forget that what you’re reading is purely fictional – but nevertheless, Fox is unafraid to take his plot to its natural conclusion, and for many characters that’s not a happy place at all.
But for the reader? It’s immensely satisfying.
Missed potential … or is it? This is a nearly perfect book, and yet I can’t give it five stars since, as an epic fantasy, Moshui fails to reach its potential. The culture and religion remain vague, while the large cast, crammed into just three books, isn’t quite done justice; some emotional scenes and dark decisions feel too short, too unexplored. Also, the ending of Hidden Cities leaves a lot of important questions unanswered. I finished the book uneasily balanced between feeling a wistful desire for more in the knowledge that all good things come to an end, and also feeling downright upset that the author didn’t finish what he started.
And yet … I can’t help but hope that this feeling of incompletion is intentional. There are enough loose ends straggling at the end of Hidden Cities that, perhaps, Daniel Fox has another series set in this world hidden up his sleeve. If that’s the case, I can’t wait to return to the world of Moshui. (And if it’s not the case, I’m very disappointed.)
Why should you read this book? With Hidden Cities, Moshui: The Books of Stone and Water trilogy improves in every category that made Dragon in Chains so worth reading in 2009. This trilogy isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly one of the most excellent fantasy series in recent years. Fox’s beautiful style makes this series utterly unique, and the many sophisticated characters are unforgettable. This is a book to savor slowly at night before bed....more
Darger and Surplus are con men who have lied there way onto a caravan carrying a gift of immense value from the Caliph of Baghdad to the Duke of Moscovy. But there are obstacles in the way of getting the gift to the Duke, which embroils the characters in political schemes, the agendas of religious zealots, drug rings and so forth. So yes, this is our earth. But the difference is in the details—and there are a lot of details.
A world both familiar and alien The most important aspect of this book for me was the worldbuilding. Swanwick has created a masterpiece in this book. While some novels with an alternate earth coast by and change a few things here and there, often just lifting a Feudal or Victorian era society and tweaking it, Swanwick has made a world so detailed and unique that it grabs you by the throat and screams, “Be interested.”
The back-story is something I won’t go into details about to avoid spoilers, but I will say that this is a future earth, despite its deficiencies and advances in science. Electric wizards and gene manipulators, Neanderthals from the gene vats of the new Byzantium Empire and part man, part bear hybrids are just a fraction of the new society. While this book is classified as steampunk, it is more science fiction, since genetic manipulation is the biggest scientific advancement of this world.
The small, often frivolous things that people create with technology are overlooked by many authors, who focus instead on the story-changing ideas that, while important, make the world quite shallow, only existing in the epic dimension. In Dancing with Bears, however, inventions such as alcohol with nanoprogrammers that teach poetry and language when drunk or bioluminescent fungi for non-flammable lighting give the book an air of reality and firmness that few authors pull off.
A dizzying but slightly disappointing story When I picked this book up, I was expecting a story similar to the Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch. I imagined a daring tale of thievery and intricate plans that ends in glory or defeat.
Dancing with Bears takes a more intricate route, though. It builds a story with over half a dozen viewpoint characters that jump around faster than you can turn pages. It grows, keeping you guessing, revealing new twists and information with each chapter to keep you interested. Despite this, I felt a tad disappointed; it lacked much of the action and actual conning that I expected until the last quarter of the novel.
This story is extremely layered. We have the protagonists’ attempt to gain the audience with the Duke of Moscovy, the religious zealots with a hedonistic philosophy spreading drugs around the city’s gentry, and the underground of shady figures dealing in large transactions that relate to the land above as well as below. It all mixes and crosses over in a way that is best appreciated in a second read.
Characters that are interesting yet relatable The characters of Dancing with Bears are generally complex. Considering that there are at least eight recurring point of views in the story, you have to keep track of who is who and what are they doing. But the characters are all unique and different enough from one another that there is little confusion.
However, I felt that the titled characters, Darger and Surplus, may have not had enough page time to warrant them being the key characters of Dancing with Bears. While Darger was my favourite character with his subtle and sophisticated humor, he did perhaps the least of any of the viewpoint characters story-wise.
Surplus was interesting, as he was not human but a genetically altered dog from America. He was much more heavily integral in the story and had an air of affable solidity that made him a very relatable character.
Why should you read this book? If you are looking for a book that doesn’t feel full of stale tropes and clichés, then this is for you. It has some amazing worldbuilding and characters. If you enjoy a complex story that will keep you guessing, you will definitely enjoy Dancing with Bears....more
The sixth installment of New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye series, Ashes of Honor, returns us to San Francisco and the world of changeling October Daye.
It’s been a year since the events of the previous novel, One Salt Sea, and Toby still hasn’t fully recovered from the personal losses she sustained during that time. She’s been trying to keep her focus on her responsibilities as Sylvester’s knight and putting in hours training her squire, Quentin—not to mention trying to pay the bills—but it’s not been working so well. Things have gotten to the point where even her most supportive allies are beginning to worry at her increasingly reckless behaviors.
And to top matters off, she’s just been hired to find yet another missing child—except, this time, it’s the changeling daughter of her fellow knight, Etienne. Her name is Chelsea, and, like her father, she is a teleporter, able to open portals between the various realms of Faerie and the mortal plane. She is also the kind of changeling from legend—one with all of the power and none of the control—and is opening doors that have been sealed for centuries, releasing dangers never meant to be seen again. Oh, and there’s the fact that she could destroy the entirety of Faerie if she isn’t found.
Toby must find Chelsea before the world ends, facing unknown deadlines and unknown worlds in her attempts to avert complete disaster. And to further complicate matters, things are stirring in the local Court of Cats, and Tybalt needs Toby’s help with the greatest challenge he’s ever faced.
The worlds next door One of my favorite things about this series is the sheer diversity of the various areas of Faerie that McGuire introduces us to. In each novel, she branches out a bit further, filling in a section here, revealing a bit there. It’s almost like seeing a tree from a distance and then coming closer to focus on an area of leaves and see all of the details. It’s very smooth, the way McGuire incorporates the worldbuilding of the otherworldly realms of Faerie into our own, familiar world. Some have said that urban fantasy isn’t as “good” as epic fantasy because the world is already built. I would direct those of that mindset to McGuire’s work, because not only does she create entirely new worlds, she melds them seamlessly with our world and all of its own history and character.
A more straightforward plot than usual One of the things I really started noticing about halfway through the novel is that the overall plot of Ashes of Honor isn’t all that complex compared to the last couple of installments in the series. Sure, it has its surprises—this is Seanan McGuire we’re talking about, after all—but all in all, it’s one of the most straightforward of the series. There’s no discovery of multiple plots going on at once, decisions having to be made to save one thing or the other, etc., etc., et al. Rather, the initial problem is just escalated—repeatedly. The more Toby finds out about her case, the more she realizes just how much danger they (and the world) are actually in.
However, this straightforward plot isn’t a bad thing. Because of it, Ashes of Honor turns into much more of an internal journey for Toby. Many of the events that occur over the course of the novel force Toby to step back and reevaluate what she knows, how she behaves, and how she feels. As she hunts after Chelsea, so does Toby begin to establish and realize who she is as opposed to who she was. It’s a refreshing change of pace and it feels like the logical next step in Toby’s story, and I believe McGuire executed it exceptionally well.
Beautifully crafted characters and relationships While Toby’s internal, personal journey is more than enough on its own to make Ashes of Honor stand apart from the rest of the series, the level of character work McGuire throws into the mix makes the book shine. As previously stated, Toby undergoes a deeply personal journey, and has to rediscover who she is. This includes her relationships with everyone around her: May, Etienne, the Ludaieg, and especially Tybalt, to name a few. We garner more insights to the workings of Faerie and the various courts and territories (such as Tamed Lightning) because of these evolving relationships. Some new faces are met, and the amount of life and utter believability McGuire manages to give them in a short time is nothing less than breathtaking. Etienne is quite thoroughly fleshed out as a character, and we get to see how Quentin has matured over the last year. Oh, and Tybalt does some decidedly badass things. Again.
And speaking of Tybalt, Ashes of Honor also gives large glimpses into the workings of the Court of Cats, as well into a good chunk of Tybalt’s past. For Toby isn’t the only one going through an internal journey. For both their sakes, Tybalt has to come clean about some rather important things, putting it all out there—something that doesn’t come easily to him. It’s a wondrous thing, to see how these two characters who were once on opposite sides have grown to depend upon each other.
Why should you read this book? Seanan McGuire has done it again. I always think that the most recent Toby novel will be my favorite, and every time, McGuire ups the ante and puts out a better one. Ashes of Honor finds the balance between being introspective and being action-oriented, and holds that balance exceptionally well. The worldbuilding is natural, flowing, and organic. The characters are real, dynamic, and their relationships are completely believable. With Ashes of Honor, McGuire has crafted a deeply personal and intense story that will keep you on the edge, hoping to be pushed over. In my opinion, it is, hands down, the best Toby to date....more
In this seventh installment of Seanan McGuire's bestselling urban fantasy series, October "Toby" Daye is finally getting her life in gear. She's doing her job, her squire's training is progressing, and she has a boyfriend in the local King of Cats, Tybalt. However, it's not all green fields and rosebuds in Toby's life. When the local changeling population begins to drop dead of goblin fruit overdose, Toby investigates and takes the problem to the Queen of the Mists in hopes of resolving the issue. Naturally, this backfires and Toby suddenly finds herself in exile. Backed into a corner, with problems from the past resurfacing, information comes to light that the Queen may not actually have a legitimate claim on the throne, and Toby must do the only logical thing:
Overthrow the Queen.
A vibrant, living world One of the things that sells a novel for me is a well-realized world. This is especially true when considering urban fantasy settings. Because there, not only do authors have to create their own world, they have to make it mesh with a world that is already familiar: our own. There are very few who do this as well as McGuire—not only has she created a supernatural world that has history, has weight, but she's also fit it into our reality so well that it's nigh-seamless. The Toby Daye series is one of the best examples of solid urban fantasy worldbuilding I've ever encountered.
And beyond that, McGuire's propensity to uncover new corners of the world never ceases to please. In every book, there's something new, details that come to life as they're brought into the reader's focus. The same holds true with Chimes at Midnight, though where in previous books it was predominantly locations that got the new spotlight, here it is more of Faerie's history and culture than anything else. Which is wonderful. (Side note: the mass market paperback has a kick-ass short story featuring a pair of the Firstborn, and it's totally awesome.)
A roller coaster of a plot I should elaborate. One of the things I have come to love and adore about McGuire's work is her knack for keeping the plot twists fresh with each book. With Chimes at Midnight, McGuire outdoes herself. Whereas all of her plots can fit the roller coaster analogy—starting off with a bang, sharp twists and turns, etc—this book is more akin to riding a roller coaster while blindfolded. The twists in the story? You know they're coming, but you don't know when or how until you're right there in the moment. McGuire pulls stuff out of the hat I didn't even know was in the hat to begin with.
And that's just real damn nifty.
The calm before the storm After finishing my read, Pink's "Glitter in the Air" comes to mind whenever I reflect upon this book. And I think it's for the following lyrics:
And it's only half past the point of no return The tip of the iceberg The sun before the burn […] It's only half past the point of oblivion The hourglass on the table The walk before the run The breath before the kiss And the fear before the flames
It seems to me that we have now reached a vital point in Toby's story. The closing of Chimes at Midnight leaves things in a more easygoing, lighter place than some of the endings of previous installments. Things are starting to look up for Toby.
So, like in any good series, this means it's about time for Toby's world to come crashing down around her. Book eight, The Winter Long, is gonna hurt. But I wouldn't trade my seat on this ride for the world.
Why should you read this book? If you're a newcomer to the series and you read this book, you'll be able to follow along pretty easily. Not everything will make complete sense, but it's doable. You should, of course, begin with book one (Rosemary and Rue). If you've read the first book or three but are on the fence about continuing? Don't. Stop. Because this book is an epitome of everything that makes the Toby Daye novels one of the best urban fantasy series on the market, right up there with Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files: tight and believable characters, a gorgeously realized universe, and so many unexpected twists it's almost like they're going out of style. Chimes at Midnight is definitely my most favorite Toby book to date.
Garrett received an ARC of Chimes at Midnight courtesy of DAW Books.
Back on the continent of Genabackis, the Bridgeburners—now led by Captain Ganoes Paran—have joined forces with the army of Dujek One-Arm. Split from the Empire that created them, they now fight a war with a terrifying opponent known as the Pannion Seer, and his cannibalistic force, the Tenescowri. Meanwhile, an immortal race gain a new leader, the Deck of Dragons gain a Master, and somewhere in a nether realm, a god, once chained and crippled, breathes again and begins to shuffle out of the darkness. Steven Erikson does it again, crafting a novel of action, violence, pathos, humor and magic, in the third installment of the Malazan Book of the Fallen epic, Memories of Ice.
Welcome back, Bridgeburners While Deadhouse Gates introduced us to the continent of Seven Cities and the rebellion there, Memories of Ice brings us back to the world of Genabackis, where all our old Bridgeburner friends await us. Whiskeyjack and Fiddler, Quick Ben and Ganoes Paran, and Kruppe and Anomander Rake are all back, this time to take on the dreaded Pannion Seer and his force of cannibals as they sweep over Genabackis. Everyone’s voice is pitch perfect, and many continue to grow and change. Not only do we have the Bridgeburners, but Erikson introduces us to a host of sometimes humorous, most times tragic characters. Gruntle and Stoney, Bauchalain and Korbal Broach, and Silverfox and Itkovian are just the beginning of the new and interesting characters Erikson creates for the world of the Malzan Empire.
The Elder times One of the more interesting parts of this book is the time and care that Erikson puts into exploring the timelines and lives of the known Elder Races. Those who walked the earth before humans, and still persist even in the present time—the ice wielding Jaghut, the fire born T’lan Imass, and the deadly K’Chain Che’Malle—are brought to the fore in this novel. Erikson begins to peel back the layers on their cultures and their tragic histories. In doing so, he illustrates how far back this epic series really goes, and begins to place pieces that will impact the series many books down the road.
The bigger picture In Memories of Ice, Erikson begins to finally show hints as to what this series is all going to be about. Secret histories of the Malazan Empire are starting to be told, and the lives of the Elder Races are starting to tie into the main narrative. But mostly the actions of Ascendants and Gods alike are highlighted, as the mistakes they’ve made come back to haunt them in the form of the Crippled God. While much of history is yet to come, his poisonous presence and malignant touch begin to seep through the pages of Memories of Ice, and you’re given a glimpse at how big a role he will come to play in the books to come.
Book of the Fallen Erikson spells it all out in the main title that this is a series celebrating the heroes who fall in battle, those who give all, and still, they fall. In the previous two books, there was tragedy and there was heartbreak aplenty. But in Memories of Ice, Erikson steps it up a notch and truly gives us some heart-wrenching moments. The action is vicious, the prose is sharp, and the twist of the knife is unseen as some of our favorite heroes fall in the line of duty. Erikson takes the themes of grief, duty, love, friendship, and war, and puts them on display in the hearts and lives of every soldier he writes.
Why should you read this book? If you’ve read Erikson’s first two Malazan titles, then I don’t need to convince you to keep reading. If you’re new to the series, then read Gardens of the Moon and Deadhouse Gates first to catch up. Many claim this book to be one of the best in the series and there is little reason to doubt them. Erikson’s writing is razor sharp, the narrative moves forward by leaps and bounds, questions are answered, more are raised, and the heartbreak is enormously sad but ultimately worth it. Because this is the Malazan Book of the Fallen, and as much as it grieves me to see certain characters go, it is as they are remembered that we’ll find the beauty of their lives....more
Set ten years after the events in Spellwright, Nicodemus has left the Heaven Tree Valley and is now in the city of Avel, still pursuing the demon Typhon in an attempt to recover the Emerald of Aarahest, which contains the other part of his soul and the cure to his cacography. With it, he will be able to become the Halycon—a prophesied savior of magical language—instead of what he is now, the Storm Petrel—a prophesied destroyer of magical language. He’s determined to let nothing stop him in this quest, but then Francesca arrives and invokes feelings inside him that he’s never felt before.
Francesca is a cleric, no longer attached to the wizardly order, who uses her magic to help her patients. However, when Typhon’s reluctant avatar, Dierdre, dies on her table and then comes back to life, Francesca’s world view is shattered as she uncovers a demon’s secret plot to take over Avel and then the entire continent—not to mention the plans that the demon apparently has for her and her alone, plans that he’s had ever since Francesca first entered the city. It seems that her only hope will be to find the rogue wizard Nicodemus, but to do that she has to tag along with her ex-lover, Cyrus, the Air Warden of Avel.
A diverse and entertaining cast The characters in Spellwright—Nicodemus, Shannon and Dierdre—were absolutely amazing. They were rough, that’s for sure, but they were still very believable and very interesting to me as a reader. In Spellbound, we have those same characters with the two major additions of Francesca and her old lover, Cyrus. There are also two wizards, Vivian and Lotannu, who show up in Avel aboard a warship with motives that no one can guess. Finally, Shannon’s ghost plays a role in the story—although a rather small one—but with the ghost comes an added perspective to the story that wasn’t previously present.
Nicodemus has matured quite a bit in the ten years since the events in Spellwright. Due to the effect his cacography has on the text he writes, he’s nearly abandoned the wizardly languages and has resorted to the kobold’s languages that he writes on his skin and doesn’t misspell. Nicodemus has become almost like a man raised by wolves during the ten years away from civilization—nomadic, untrusting and a bit of a loner.
Humor in epic fantasy? What madness is this?! The writing throughout this trilogy has been above par, almost masterful, but the dialogue goes above and beyond in Spellbound. The back and forth between Francesca and Cyrus made me laugh out loud at multiple points in the novel. Francesca’s dialogue alone is hilarious. She’s a spitfire with a sharp tongue that she isn’t afraid to use on anyone. Francesca and Cyrus aren’t completely hogging the humor in Spellbound, however. Vivian and Lotannu have their banter as well, and Nicodemus has his own moments of extreme wit.
Humor is so rarely used in epic fantasy—at least, not humor that we can actually relate to—and it really adds something to a novel. Most epic fantasy is oh-so-serious and there’s absolutely no time for any kind of humor in such a world where the fate of humanity is at stake, but it makes the story so much more memorable when you give readers something to laugh at. The last time I saw humor used so liberally was in Mistborn; it’s used a bit more, and quite a bit better, in Spellbound. I seriously have to applaud Charlton for his masterful use of humor, which wasn’t overwhelming at all, instead providing just the right amount of brevity to give Spellbound that memorable quality.
Defying the standard trilogy setup We all know the format for trilogies. The first book is an awesome introduction to the story and the world, leaving us wanting more. The second book comes out and we’re just kind of “eh” about it, because it’s obviously a transitory book used for almost solely for plot development and nothing really happens, so it’s boring. Then, the third book comes out and we’re all absolutely wowed by how well it wraps up the story. Granted, this is for most normal “good” trilogies.
In this case, the second novel is so much better than the first. Let me say that again, because I seriously doubt that you read what you thought you read. It’s better than the first. There, I said it. Charlton has seriously delivered in this second-novel-that-doesn’t-feel-like-a-second-novel. Spellbound reads like that first awesome novel that you just can’t get enough of, and it’s an amazing feat.
However… We see Nicodemus in the beginning of the novel, but then only sparingly until about two-thirds through when he steps up his game and plays more of a major role in the story. While I think that introducing new characters is important, failing to highlight your main character is a bit of a misstep when writing a novel. Along the same lines, another small complaint I have regards Cyrus. I found him to be a very interesting character, but once Francesca finds Nicodemus, he seems to only play a bit part, which didn’t do the character justice at all.
Why should you read this book? Well, if you still haven’t raced off to the bookstore to buy it since reading the above, let’s go through a little list of why Spellbound is the best sequel I’ve read this year. Characters that you can really believe are part of that world? Check. Writing that leaves you fully immersed in the story? Check. The most unique magic system I’ve ever read about? Check. Plot twists and character developments galore? Check. Textual dragons, a bit of romance, some badass monsters and an evil mastermind? Check, check, check and check.
Charlton has impressed me more than I thought I could be impressed by an author. I went into this with high expectations after reading Spellwright, and I was still blown away. The Spellwright Trilogy is turning out to be one of the best trilogies of the decade, and I seriously cannot wait for the conclusion, which I’m pretty sure is going to amaze me even more than Spellbound did....more
With The Crippled God, the Malazan Book of the Fallen series comes to an end in iron and blood, fire and triumph, magic and heartbreak. Steven Erikson manages to not only craft one of the best books I have read this year, but to finish what I believe to be one of the finest fantasy series I have ever read.
The Malazan we love Here in the heart of Kolanse begins the final gambit as the greatest of all convergences begin. Here gods, men, dragons, Tiste Andii, Elder gods, Elder races, and more all swerve and journey onward to the Heart of the Crippled God. Some hope to free it, others wish to exploit it, while still others seek to destroy the alien thing. But none of that will matter if none survive to tell the tale.
Written twelve years after his first book in the Malazan series, Gardens of the Moon, Erikson’s tenth Book of the Fallen ends the tale of Adjunct Tavore, the Bonehunters, Ganoes Paran, Fiddler, Dead Hedge, Hood, Quick Ben, Kalam, the Bridgeburners, the titular Crippled God, and many more. Erikson brings strong characterization and endless humanity not only to these beloved characters whom we’ve known since the beginning, but also to the faceless, nameless soldiers of the Bonehunters, those whom the series is all about: the fallen. In Erikson’s writing, it is always worth speaking for the fallen, and there is always time to kneel by the soldier next to you, to hear their story.
A breathtaking finale Having read breathlessly through the previous nine volumes, I can look at The Crippled God and say that Erikson knew what he was doing all along. This book and its culmination have been foreshadowed across the width and breadth of the series, going back even to the beginning. Threads, concepts, characters, and arcs from books ago spring back to life, weaving together and connecting in this final tale; the ending took my breath away with how seamlessly it all played out.
Erikson pulls out all the stops in his finale, bringing to life every aspect of the immense world he and his friend Ian Esslemont have built, showcasing the breathtaking world building that these two have spent decades on. Always an exercise in imagination and pure reasoning, Erikson does not disappoint as he uses the final book to delve even deeper into the wonderful world he has built.
Humane Ultimately, where this book—and series as a whole—succeeds is in its representation of the human condition. Erikson digs down and digs deep into the human mind, heart and soul, mining his characters for their views on love, life, war, retribution, pain, sorrow, fate, life, death, posterity and all the eternal themes that worry the minds of humanity. In his hands, Erikson makes of every character a poet, a historian, a scholar, but always, always keeps them human. In their hearts, the series is elevated beyond the title of epic fantasy: it becomes a treatise on the human condition.
Why should you read this book? Breathtakingly complex, overwhelmingly heartbreaking, fantastically humorous, and epic on every scale imaginable, Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, and particularly The Crippled God, is the work of a true master, not just in writing, but in a study of storytelling and humanity, as well. While it is not without its difficulties and not every question is answered, I can say with full confidence that this series is one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and I urge you to read it for yourself.
While the Malazan world still lives and there are still stories to tell, the Malazan Book of the Fallen is officially closed. Thank you, Steven Erikson, for all your worlds, all your passion, and, especially, this wonderful story. Well done....more
Miserere is the debut novel of Teresa Frohock, released mid-2011 by Night Shade Books. A mesmerizing dark fantasy that showcases Frohock’s admirable talent as a writer, Miserere is an utterly compelling tale and pleasure to read.
The story takes place primarily in Woerld, one of a hierarchy of parallel dimensions that also include Hell, Earth and Heaven. Woerld is located between Hell and Earth and acts as a frontline of defense against the Fallen Angels of Hell, who seek to invade the higher planes to wage war on Heaven itself. Sixteen years ago, Lucian Negru, an exorcist and holy warrior of the Christian bastion of Woerld, deserted his lover Rachael in Hell to save his twin sister Catarina’s soul. However, Catarina did not want salvation. Having allied herself with the Fallen, she seeks her brother’s assistance to open the Hell Gates and allow the demons passage. However, Lucian denies her, and as a result, she has him crippled and imprisoned, hoping to wear him down until he finally complies. He is further tormented by the guilt of betraying the one he loved, and when he hears that Rachael is dying due to a demonic wyrm that possesed her in Hell, Lucian escapes, fleeing his sister’s fortress in a last desperate hope of repairing the damage he wrought. However, Catarina has grown strong in dark magic and her wrath—and that of the Fallen—is not easily escaped.
This is a debut? First, I have to say that if I didn’t know better, I would never have guessed that Miserere was a debut novel. The writing is extremely polished, with effortlessly flowing prose and just the right complexity of language. There were countless times during reading where I paused momentarily to admire Frohock’s way with words. In fact, I’ve read many books by much more experienced writers that don’t even come close to achieving such beautiful prose. I realize that this is a subjective evaluation and different writing styles suit different readers, however, Frohock’s writing worked exceptionally well for me and I believe I would have a lot of trouble trying to find a single phrase I would change. The story itself has substantial depth and the characters ring true, while the narrative remains compelling and is never bogged down with pointless exposition or info-dumping.
The greatest battles are those we wage within While the concept of demonic forces threatening to break free of Hell and overun worlds may seem somewhat familiar, Miserere goes far beyond that. Although we are made aware of these larger conflicts and their far-reaching consequences, the real story Frohock tells is far more human and much closer to home. Miserere is in essence a character driven work, and the most substantial conflicts we see are not between the legions of hell and defenders of heaven but within the mind of the individual. Lucian’s is a story of betrayal, regret, and redemption as he tries to make amends for past mistakes. Likewise, Rachael battles with not only the demon within her but with fading hope, loss of faith in both her god and herself, and an inability to trust born of betrayal. Lucian’s foundling, Lindsay, must also find strength in the face of loss, fear, and the unknown.
The characters themselves are extremely well realized. They are believably imperfect individuals that are easy to relate to and the mistakes they make are those we can all understand. Likewise, the stuggles they face are those that will be familiar to almost all of us to some extent. Even the most morally reprehensible character is not wholly evil and does not act without reason. Furthermore, most are a fair bit older than many fantasy protagonists—Lucian, Rachael, and Catarina are around forty—and thus their characters already have decades of history and experience to draw on.
Are you afraid of the dark? Miserere is undeniably a work of dark fantasy and, as such, often deals with the less pleasant aspects of the human experience. It also contains numerous horror elements, some of which are quite grotesque and moderately graphic, and Frohock does not pass over subjects such as death, injury, rape, manipulation, and abuse. While the descriptions are never gratuitous, it makes for a thought-provoking yet somewhat unsettling read that is perhaps not suited for the faint of heart. Those who prefer their fantasy with a darker edge, however, will not be disappointed.
It is a difficult and complex task to write fiction that draws on religious themes without running the risk of alienating a percentage of readers. Overall, Frohock does what I would consider an extremely good job of this, though those who are very strict in their interpretation of scripture may find some fault that I have overlooked. Nevertheless, I can’t see it causing much trouble for most fantasy fans, religious or not. All in all, the various real world religions on Woerld are generally portrayed in quite a favorable light, existing in a much more cooperative state than in our world, and not one is advocated as inherently superior to others. Additionally, although the novel draws heavily on Judeo-Christian mythology and features prayer as a focal point for magic, it never comes across as preachy or condescending. As someone with a rather passionate distaste for books of any type masquerading as something different to gain readers, I never once felt I was reading religious fiction disguised as a fantasy.
Parting is such sweet sorrow! Miserere isn’t a particularly long novel compared to most fantasy works, and Frohock fits an admirable amount of story, world building, and character development in a minimal number of words. Nevertheless, I thought perhaps the last quarter could have been a little longer. While I wouldn’t consider any parts of the novel slow and the story never dragged, there was quite a big buildup before the resolution, which all happened very quickly. While it was extremely well done and still very satisfying, I couldn’t help but wish for a bit more. Nevertheless, this is just as likely due to the fact that I very much enjoyed the novel and didn’t want it to end rather than any substantial flaw.
While this novel stands quite well on its own, there is still much of Woerld left to explore, not to mention that the greater threat to Woerld, Earth, and Heaven may be considered set back or delayed rather than completely eliminated. While I don’t particularly require perfectly resolved, tidy endings, I know that many other readers differ in this preference. Those who do will be pleased to hear that this is not really the end of the tale and that Frohock intends to write more novels set in Woerld and continuing the story from different viewpoints.
Why should you read this book? All in all, Miserere is an enthralling and memorable book that I found extremely hard to put down. If you are a fan of dark, beautifully written fantasy, set in a fascinating world and featuring well developed characters, then I would suggest you get your hands on a copy of Frohock’s debut as soon as possible. If you are looking for a light and upbeat read, are not a fan of dark fantasy, or are easily put off by moderate gore and distressing themes, you might look elsewhere. Personally, I can’t wait to read more from this talented author and can hardly wait for the next installment....more
Germline, T. C. McCarthy’s ambitious debut novel, is the first installment in his Subterrene War trilogy. While it is ostensibly labeled as work of neGermline, T. C. McCarthy’s ambitious debut novel, is the first installment in his Subterrene War trilogy. While it is ostensibly labeled as work of near-future military science fiction, that description barely scratches the surface of the true scope of the novel: Germline is, in essence, a gritty and confronting coming-of-age story featuring a deeply flawed protagonist. The result is intense, uncomfortable, and more than just a little bit brilliant.
A grim, believable future, and a protagonist to match Germline is set in a decidedly bleak near future where US and Russian troops battle for the Earth’s few remaining mineral deposits. Foremost in the American arsenal are deadly squads of all-female, genetically engineered super-soldiers. These women, known as Genetics, are indoctrinated into a cult-like religion of Faith and Death and exist for the sole purpose of killing as many enemy soldiers as possible before they themselves are killed or are “honorably discharged” (via a bullet to the head) at the age of eighteen. However, the US advantage is short-lived, as the Russians soon begin to engineer Genetics of their own. As the supply of healthy human troops dwindles, women are “encouraged” to stay at home breeding future war fodder while the US military recruits old men and boys.
Enter Oscar Wendell, a sub-par, drug-addicted reporter with a few friends in high places and ambitions for a Pulitzer Prize. When Wendell manages to secure an assignment with US troops on the front lines in Kazakhstan, he believes he has finally scored the story that will make him famous. However, he soon realizes that nothing could have prepared him for the realities of war. Already an addict, Wendell begins to rely increasingly upon narcotics while his former life as a reporter and the civilian world gradually fade from his tormented mind.
Daring and confronting I say Germline is an ambitious debut because it is in no way the kind of “safe” first novel we sometimes see from new authors. McCarthy refuses to limit his fiction by sticking to familiar or uncontroversial concepts, or those we can view from a comfortable distance. Nor does he feature characters and scenarios calculated for the broadest possible appeal or least likelihood of causing offence. Instead, McCarthy chooses a nihilistic and disturbed protagonist, places the reader inside that character’s broken mind through first person narration and then proceeds to pack his novel with biting social commentary.
So many things could go wrong with this kind of setup that one has to admire McCarthy’s daring, if nothing else. Yet he manages to pull the novel off in spectacular fashion, creating a grueling experience sure to impress the reader.
A harrowing first person perspective Oscar Wendell’s first person narrative is undoubtedly one of the key factors making Germline such an intense novel. Reminiscent of Hunter S. Thompson, Wendell is not necessarily a likeable protagonist, and the reader is privy to his every flaw. He is a selfish, self-indulgent, broken wreck of a human being whose emotions jump between extremes with alarming regularity. Furthermore, he is not even particularly competent compared to the novel’s other characters, and his continued survival in a war-zone is just as often due to the efforts of friends in high places, genetics, fellow soldiers, and dumb luck than the result of any actions of his own.
Despite all this, Wendell is somehow the perfect protagonist to carry the reader on an eye-opening journey through McCarthy’s desolate future. In addition, although I am no expert on psychology and addiction, McCarthy’s depiction of this aspect of Wendell’s character seems very true to life. Wendell is, in essence, a deeply flawed and believable human being who—seemingly beyond hope—must learn to take responsibility for himself the hard way. “The hard way” doesn’t get much harder than this.
The prose itself is direct and unadorned in a way that perfectly complements the setting and protagonist. After all, there is little time for poeticism when the world is falling apart around you.
No shortage of social commentary here, sir Germline gives the reader their first glimpse of a world where basic human rights have been all but stripped away and provides countless hints of more to come. Although we are limited to Oscar Wendell’s personal experience in this world, much more may be read into the novel once one looks below the surface. The horrors that Wendell witnesses cannot be viewed in isolation; they are, after all, the product of the society that allowed them.
For instance, the gender of the Genetics serves a dual purpose. The accepted explanation to the Genetics’ gender holds that the initial male prototypes, unlike their female counterparts, are too prone to uncontrollable, testosterone-fueled violence; but the female models provide yet another benefit. Their presence on the battlefields can be used by those in power to counter any allegations of sexism in excluding women from the front lines. While this idea may make some readers uncomfortable, it is deliberately calculated to be troubling and one would be hard pressed to say that this kind of set-up is in any way acceptable.
And now for the really uncomfortable part… All in all, although Germline is a work of science fiction, in many ways it is not all that far-fetched or unfamiliar. The technology depicted throughout the novel is futuristic yet disturbingly plausible. McCarthy merely takes already existing and swiftly developing technologies such as genetic modification and cloning to the next level. As someone who has some familiarity with genetics and related science, there was nothing depicted in the novel that I found particularly implausible.
Likewise, the novel’s premise, despite being unpleasant, is also quite believable and finds its basis in real world issues. Most would agree that humanity is just beginning to realize, somewhat reticently, that natural resources are not infinite. Furthermore, it is not hard to believe that if we continue to rely upon such finite materials too much longer we could well end up with the kind of resource war scenario McCarthy depicts. Some may be so bold as to suggest that, to some extent at least, we already have.
So why should you read this book? Germline is without doubt one of the most intense and affecting books I have read in long time. The fact that the details of the novel remain clear in my mind a month after finishing it should be a good indication of the extent to which it engaged me as a reader. Nevertheless, it won’t suit everyone: Germline is not a light read, nor is it an easy one. What it is, however, is a well-executed and relevant novel that will haunt you long after you finish reading. It is gritty, unsettling, confronting, and at times quite harrowing—yet I wouldn’t have it any other way....more
Pathfinder is Orson Scott Card’s first foray into the entirely new world of the Serpent World series. Pathfinder has a lot in common with Card’s excellent and popular Ender’s Game series from the eighties: a child prodigy is thrown into a dangerous and bewildering situation by the adults in authority. Rigg and his father are trappers in an isolated forest, but Rigg’s education extends far beyond woodsmanship, delving into physics, history, finances, and more. Unbeknownst to Rigg, his father is preparing the boy for a future that will take Rigg out of the woods and into a political minefield—and that’s only the beginning. (You know things are going to get complicated when every chapter is preceded by a man wrestling with physical paradoxes and, occasionally, robots while flying in an enormous spaceship.)
Rigg is brilliant—in all senses of the word Card’s characters are known for being unique and believable, and young Rigg is no exception. Rigg is a phenomenal mix of thirteen-year-old naivety with uncommon logical and rhetorical brilliance; like Ender, Rigg is obviously a genius, and yet the shifting, complicated relationships Rigg forms with his friends and enemies make him an entirely new entity. You’ve never met a boy like Rigg. Instead of solving problems with violence, Rigg uses his cunning brain to get out of trouble, and his altogether unique talent—the ability to sense living things’ paths through space and time—creates mindboggling puzzles that take time for the reader to figure out as well as Rigg’s friends.
Secondary characters, from Umbo to Loaf to Leaky to Param, are also all well-developed. Although Rigg is obviously the star of Pathfinder, there are several hints that the others will take on more prominent roles in future books. The most interesting character of all is Rigg’s demanding father—known to others as the Wandering Man or Wandering Saint—who dies unseen early in the book but has a lasting and palpable influence on all of Rigg’s decisions from beginning to end.
Time travel… wait, what? Card does some complicated things with time travel, philosophy, and physics in Pathfinder—things that most readers may find very difficult to follow. Luckily, all of Pathfinder’s characters find themselves in the same position, and they spend a considerable amount of time—too much time, perhaps—discussing the possibilities and implications of such talents as Rigg and others have. I’m not convinced that Card’s system ever really makes sense, but it’s consistently followed in the book, and somehow he managed not to shake my state of suspended disbelief throughout the whole novel.
The man in the spaceship I mentioned earlier is Ram Odin, an idealistic space pilot from Earth attempting to navigate his ship through paradoxical folds in space and time. These sections following Ram are always very brief—one to two pages at most—and it is only approaching the end that the surprising connections between Ram’s and Rigg’s stories become clear. It’s another credit to Card that Ram’s short snippets offer just as much intrigue and character development as Rigg’s longer chapters.
Straightforward storytelling Card balances the puzzle of time travel with his straightforward, bordering-on-blunt style of narrative. Only in the style is this book’s Young Adult categorization noticeable. Instead of lengthy frilled descriptions of the people and places that Rigg encounters, Card opts for short, simple sentences and reasoning. The style works remarkably well both in action scenes and in reflective or confusing time-traveling scenes.
Other reviewers mentioned being irked by the occasional expository paragraph, but I took it as a symptom of Rigg’s highly logical and highly trained mind. He weighs his options, works through the potential consequences of each, and then makes his decision. Fortunately or unfortunately, Card usually makes these thought processes visible to the reader. I often needed them and always enjoyed them—but perhaps, for some sharper-thinking readers, these explanations will seem too obvious and patronizing.
Why should you read this book? For Card’s thousands of existing fans, regardless of age, this book will be an obvious choice: it’s sophisticated, intelligent, and full of the elements that made Ender’s Game such a hit. For those of you who’ve yet to encounter Card, or those of you who remain unconvinced, I still heartily recommend it. Pathfinder is more intellectual and less aggressive than Ender’s Game, but equally engrossing—and it’s clear that this series will only get better....more